During the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on a range of topics I wanted to write about for this blog. Slowly, I realized that my preoccupation was a diversion, a way of not reflecting on the immediacy of my life experience, what is happening to me right now. And more accurately, the conditions I have created to make this “happen” to me. I am in the process of moving…from Ohio to California. More specifically, I am returning to my “home”: the Pacific Ocean.
The first 16 years of my life were remarkably fixed and stable: 234 Linwood Avenue, Waterloo, Iowa. Since I left that home my life has been characterized by a series of moves; this current one, I computed, will be my 23rd move. Some were in the same city, but many were not. I have lived in 8 states in distinct national regions. The home in Johnstown, OH I am about to sell is the fifth house where I was a sole owner. Briefly, I am familiar with moving.
This move, however, is proving to be different, and hence the welcoming of diversions. I do not fully understand how this is different, but some early indicators reveal themselves. I am in the extended process of celebrating my 80th birthday as I prepare to once more “reinvent myself”, the opportunity every move reveals. Moving involves knowingly and deliberately disrupting everything fixed and predictable in your life. Early on in my move adventures, I was startled at the strange experience of a new grocery store where everything is in the “wrong place” and some options no longer exist, or the mystery of finding a nearby gas station.
The most striking disruptions have always seemed to me to first present as “losses”, everything I no longer have. I don’t enjoy this part, and am often clumsy and disquieted during it. Eventually, there is the more mysterious disruption, an invitation to what I have gained, what is now new and enticing in my emergent life. Over time, I have learned that this latter stage is why I trust moving. Those new things show up because I moved, not because I failed to find them in my prior life.
People have often asked me why I move, as if I am challenging norms, living a peripatetic life for no clear reason. I have never found a useful response, since most ask the question with a subtext that implies they would never move this often. There is often a hint of disapproval or disagreement in the question. Many note that there are financial implications: frequent moves cost money and make earning pensions unlikely. I agree with them.
The best I have been able to achieve in explaining my moving is to say that when I know my life purpose is “done” in a space and place, I then start paying attention to the next space and place where my life purpose will emerge in new manifestations. I put a lot of energy into the question of my life purpose, so answers do present themselves. I do not necessarily find the answers comfortable or attractive, but I have learned to trust them. The question that stymies me: why are so few people changing space and place as their life purpose evolves?
Now all this moving generates some habits and facile solutions to complex and vexing problems. We humans accumulate “stuff” during our lives, some with meaning and a powerful sense of importance for us. I have boxes and bins of “stuff”. I have become skillful at simply packaging and packing the “stuff” and moving it to the next location. I have always selected homes with some space waiting to easily welcome my “stuff”, no questions asked.
Now, in addition to the commonplace “moving purges of stuff”, I have conducted three or four major “moving purges of stuff”. I have even bragged about it. As I noted earlier, however, this move is different. My 80thbirthday served as a bright spotlight shining on my “stuff”, asking some obvious questions: Why are you saving all this “stuff”? Are you once more moving this “stuff”? You plan on renting; where will you store this “stuff”? What is the purpose of saving this “stuff” anyway? The more distressing question followed: “If you aren’t keeping and moving this “stuff”, what are you going to do with it?
I have concluded that purges should not be measured in breadth but in depth. I have completed some pretty impressive broad purges. These days I am doing deep purges. They are much more distressing, and informative. All are guided by one question: “Will you have need of this before you die?” Now I have shared this useful inquiry with others, knowing that I live in a death denying culture. It appears to make many uncomfortable. I have learned to suggest it less often.
A related useful process is to assess how much I want my children and grandchildren to “desire and cherish” the artifacts of my personal biography. Now it seems obvious to me that this is a question not emerging from their stated desires but my need to feel like they cherish me. Deciding what “stuff” is to be “legacy artifacts” is a sobering process. By way of example, I have received numerous awards during my career. Realizing no one is hoping to have a trophy case of my awards in their near future is arresting. So, I discarded them. What a strange ending to their short time of being “special”.
Some “stuff” marks creative work. Here I think the “stuff” may be useful to others. There is apparently, at least for me, a difference between creative products and awards. This is a good example of the challenge I have embraced. It also demonstrates why this move is different. Even affirming creative products does not determine their fate. I had a Kellogg Leadership Fellowship where I studied photography for three years. I have a collection of the creative products, and am proud of many of them. It is less clear what their future might be.
Before, I avoided all these distinctions and decisions. Now, they are the stuff of my daily life. For me, exploring if I can find useful homes for all the “stuff” that is not moving with me to the Pacific Ocean has become something of a skill set I am mastering. Sometimes it moves me; sometimes it amuses me. I like knowing I am not leaving the task to my children to address after my death.
I have chronicled all this with a conscious link to my life purpose. What does Elderhood ask of us? What does Wisdom Work look like? How do we start the conversations about the challenge to redistribute our “stuff” as our life cycle winds down? What are the lessons embedded in our experiences of moving while aging? How do we manage the disorientation that can emerge while responding to the call to reinvent ourselves at 80? And perhaps most pointedly, where and when will we learn to discuss the certitude of our dying and our death? How do we ensure that this final cycle of human development has deliberate conscious depth and substance and can make a difference for ourselves and for others?
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” - Neale Donald Walsch -
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