Boxes and boxes.
That’s what the basement looks like, boxes of stuff. I get rid of some, and the next day I go downstairs and see that the boxes have given birth to more boxes.
“Where did you come from?” I ask them. Was there an orgy? A party, at least? Did they maintain safe distance? Doesn’t look like it.
The basement used to hold lots and lots of books, and it took some three rounds over the years to give them away. But that still left boxes of remainder copies of books by Bernie, Maezumi Roshi, Peter Matthiessen, and Lex Hixon. About two weeks ago, those went.
Now I have boxes containing corporate files and archival material relating to Zen Peacemakers, including picture albums. I am going over them, closing them up, and they will then be shipped across country.
After that, picture prints will go. The elegant and gracious photographer, Peter Cunningham, has a visual record of all things Bernie and most things Zen Peacemakers, so I don’t need to retain countless copies of photos, even framed ones.
“Don’t you want to ask around to see who wants the pictures and then send them?” someone asked me.
“Do you know how long that’s going to take?” I said.
There is definitely a sense of disloyalty. But it’s not getting rid of things, it’s putting them to bed. It’s looking at them one final time, telling stories, giving them a kiss, and saying good night.
After that, many mats for sitting cushions; I have no idea what to do with them.
Why this work, emptying out the basement? It’s my second round. The first round took place over a year ago, when I had to do a quick inside-the-house move in order to rent out two rooms. That was the first round of emptying. This is the second.
This time there’s no urgency, only the gut feeling that I have to create more space, and the way I do that is to let go of more and more things Bernie, more and more things Zen Peacemakers. The things I have loved most in the world, other than family.
It feels crazy to let go of things that gave you identity, love, and meaning. I pitched my tent under the shade of their great trees for some 35 years. Earlier today I spent an hour telling the story of those early years on Zoom as part of a study program run by Zen Peacemakers. I didn’t need notes, I didn’t need prompts.
But I’m letting go more and more, acquiring space. Space for what? I have no idea, that’s the scary part.
It’s so easy to hold on to the things that in the past meant so much, that continue to mean a lot even now. What happens if you let them go?
Many years ago, I stopped working full-time for Zen Peacemakers. I had been directing peacemaking projects and doing training programs, and I wasn’t sure that whatever came up next would be important enough, valuable enough, meaningful enough. I wondered about my marriage because Bernie and I had been so used to working together. He didn’t like my decision and made no secret of it.
At some point, reading about the huge need for kidney transplants, I began the process of donating a kidney, only to be rejected at the very end by one result out of about a million blood tests, I was crestfallen.
“What’s wrong with my kidneys?” I asked my doctor.
“Nothing. Your kidneys are perfect for a woman your age,” he told me.
Nothing was going to save me from encountering that extra space and time that had before been so full.
I felt the same apprehension when I stopped being a spirit holder of the annual Auschwitz-Birkenau retreats. And this last Monday I told my fellow organizers that I am leaving the organizing group of the Native American retreat. It’s time to bring in new blood, I said, diversify more, do something new.
So, here is another round, a workaholic encountering a half-empty basement, walls not plastered with photos or art, and no rush to watch the clock.
“Something will arise, it always does. At the very least you’ll have more space,” a fellow teacher commented.
“That’s what worries me,” I grumbled back.
Who is this woman if she doesn’t always work? Who is this woman letting go of books, files, and pictures of some 35 years? Who is this woman without those 35 years?
I’m going to find out.