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Too Much Stuff!

We’ve got too much stuff. Friends are moving and having estate sales. Stuff sales. I am hearing how overwhelming this is - to clear a house one’s lived in for 25 years. I think I should start some clearing. But I can’t even get a paper grocery bag worth of junk out of a stuffed closet.

I might need this again. I might lose weight and wear that. The boys could use this if they ever buy a house……

It is overwhelming.

When the boys were in grade school I was always a room mom going on the field trips. Teachers like boy moms on field trips. We know how to chase liquid mercury through cavernous downtown Chicago museums.

One trip we visited the Pawnee Earth Lodge at the Field Museum. I remember being exhausted around that time. Raising three boys under age 10. I sat in that simple round Pawnee lodge and looked up to see the stars displayed. A calm came over me as the boys around me jiggled their legs uncontrollably. “This,” I thought, “would be idyllic.” That pot, that fire, those wooden spoons. I know it sounds crazy and OF COURSE I knew it was NOT easy. But something inside me longed for the peace that came with Less. We were told about the average Pawnee day - which came out to about a third of my daily morning to do list. The simplicity of “just” getting food and living seemed absolutely dreamy.

Just life. Can we pare it down to just life? Sounds Buddhist.

I see pictures of people escaping burning airplanes - sliding down the plastic chute - clutching their oversized carry ons in their arms. We know the flight attendant told us to leave those carry ons on the plane in the chance of an emergency. But still.

My pilates teacher, Olha, is a beautiful young mother - looks like a ballerina - who also has a degree in Physical Therapy and a certificate in pilates. She left Ukraine with a plastic bag that contained her valuable papers and a small suitcase. On the Ukraine government website a “list of things to put in an emergency suitcase and basic rules that will save lives during missile strikes” lays it all out simply. They call the suitcase an “Alarm Suitcase.” The page ends with “Keep calm and take care!”

Olha traveled from Ternopil - on the currently “safer” side of Ukraine - with her husband and 11 year old son. Her 14 year old son stayed with grandparents and is coming to the U.S. this summer. Each had (and will have) a plastic bag with papers and a small suitcase.

When I first met Olha and asked about her experience - she said all she came with was her brains and her education. She is lucky. She could always buy stuff here. But now the stuff just does not matter to her. She said she wasn’t always like that - that she did have This purse and Those shoes - but now? It just doesn’t matter. And I believe her. I saw in her eyes that something… that peace that comes with Less.

Of course what she left behind broke her heart. Her family, friends, physical therapist and pilates business she owned and built from the ground up (think: building, equipment, extensive client list- and - I can only imagine - pride of accomplishment, status in the community, and most likely a far reaching professional community of friends and colleagues.).

All gone.

I wanted to know what was hard for Arsen, the 11 year old, to give up - the stuff that didn’t fit in his alarm suitcase. Legos.

Arsen was like my son, Dillon, who for years asked only for Legos every birthday and Christmas. The Lego creations lining his bedroom shelves. The thought, the love put into the building of each. Left behind. She says Arsen doesn’t play with Legos anymore.

Her husband? Tore his heart to leave behind his aging parents, the business that he had built over the last 7 years.

It’s hard for me to imagine being a successful man or woman, moving from one's home country (with one suitcase) and starting completely over in a foreign country. Seems you would have to transcend. To leave behind everything and exist in another way.

I am reading a great book: Soul Bloom by Rain Wilson. (Yes! Dwight from The Office!) He talks about transcendence - how it is one trait central to every religion in the world. It is a sense that our reality is NOT just “stuff” - but that there are realms invisible to us. Realms we reach through experience - maybe making us more “spiritual” in nature. Forced to leave your home country because of war? An experience us lucky Americans can’t even imagine living through - let alone coming out of it on top. Where we like to be.

Olha still has her thoughts, her brain, her heart. The real stuff. She will complete her credential evaluation and pass the National Physical Therapist Exam in the United States in order to once again practice Physical Therapy. She is a tough cookie - stronger than anyone I know - man or woman. She effortlessly shows me pilates moves, hops off the reformer and says “You try!”

And I get maybe half way through the move or I fail miserably. And she says something like “You will get farther next time.”

Olha is an inspiration and I want to believe her. That I might have some of the right stuff inside me that matters. That someday I will get farther, even transcend.

Cleaning out another closet - determined to get rid of stuff, I come across a box of ripped napkins, match book covers, torn notebook pages and old notebooks - full of ideas for writing that I have saved. (Yes! Writers really do this and usually the best ideas are stored in said boxes long forgotten!) Honestly, it’s kind of a nightmare. But in the chaos I find a quote that I can’t remember where it came from:

“Sometimes letting go of everything can leave enough room to fill you up with something else to give.”

Sounds about perfect to me.

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