When Things Change

My brother George, up in Nova Scotia, lighting a Chinese Lantern.

Well, here’s some news.  We’re putting our house on the market.  Bill and I have decided that at this stage in our lives, it’s time to not rent out in the summer.  It’s time to live like other people, in a house that is always our home.

So this is throwing me into several conditions at once… I’m thinking and thinking, wondering what will happen, putting myself into organizational hyper-drive.  It’s a time to lighten up, that is, if I want to sleep at all.  I need to let go of the whole situation, and also, let go of a lot of our stuff.  The last time I moved, I had trouble with this.  I learned this from my father.  He thought it was morally wrong to throw things away.  “People went to a lot of trouble to make that,” he would say.  His favorite thing was stocking up, either with things he scrounged from somewhere or things he purchased in bulk.  Because anything could be just what you need in a moment of desperation.  He had for example, titanium sheets left over after they stamped out some parts at his work, and so much duct tape which was useful for every purpose, and blocks of lead in case we wanted to melt them down and make our own sinkers for fishing, and multiple tubes of two-part epoxy, and years and years of canned goods, including some Army rations left over from the Korean War.  Do you know that instead of buying wire for your boat you can make it yourself from copper and two-part epoxy and electrical tape?  We did that one year.  (We got our boat into the water in September, as I recall.)

If the revolution had come, we would have been fine, especially if duct tape could have been used as currency, as I suspect it could.  And I’m a lot like my father, and sorry Dad, but in this case I want to change.  I want to be that person who understands that empty space can be the most useful thing of all.  I want to be that person.  We’ll see what I can do.

And now I have two big things to say.  One is that I can’t believe we’ve been in our home for almost 20 years.  This year was the 19th time we’ve moved out of our house for the summer.  The day after tomorrow is the 19th time that we'll have moved back in.  I’ve been thinking about what I remember - the time I decided, the morning of the move-out, that the dining room needed repainting, the year my father died, and my aunt and uncle got sick right away, and I was leaving to catch a plane to help out in Florida, and how I was not ready, how the taxi driver came to pick me up and rush me to the ferry, and because it was move-out day again, he helped me take everything I had dumped onto the porch and we crammed it into the gazebo, how we went for speed, not elegance, and accomplished what might have been several hours of work in less than 15 minutes, how I gave him what I hope was the biggest tip of his life, and how I’m probably still looking for things that I lost that day.   Then I think about the time when the house was new, that the kids came for New Year’s with 30 of their closest friends, and how they all had computers and could write papers, play chess, and break up with their girlfriends at the same time, and how one of them slept sitting up so the dog could have the rest of the couch.  And how an entire company of folks I had been working with from India came to the house, and how they loved it because it felt like home because the roads were so crowded, and how they rented mopeds and rode them just like they do in India, with the women's scarves blowing in the wind, and how they helped me get ready for the summer rental by putting our dining room chairs together.  And the times our families came, and the grandchildren running around the yard, and the many, many meals in the kitchen, and the sound of the fog horn, and the Southeast Light reflecting on the bedroom walls, and the sunrises every morning, and the Molly waiting for Wilson to scratch at the door so that both of them could come in, and the sea smoke rising off the ocean on a really cold day.  And sleeping in the quiet of the island with the moonlight on my face.  But in other ways, those years blur into one.  It’s made me think that my memories will fade no matter what I do and that it’s so important to have this moment now. 

The other thing is the art of leaving.  When the new people come, I can hope that they will be happy here.  That’s the way I have always felt about the summer people.  Because that is how, year after year, I could let our house turn into their house.  I could think that the children who came would be growing up here, and that this house would hold the best times in their childhoods.  I could love that.  And I do love that.  And they did.  They grew up in our house.

Maybe it’s not the past and future that go on forever before us, forever behind.  Maybe the thing that holds infinity is now.  Maybe it is a giant space that holds everything, including our memories, and maybe not the just memories, maybe the things themselves.  I mean, maybe everything that’s ever happened is always true right now.  I’ve gotten to the point where I deal with my losses and changes this way.  I can think of my father and of Wilson and Molly.  And this is how I can think of the house.  I can think that the biggest possible space I call “now” is holding them for me, and not just them but the things I’ve forgotten.  And then if I love them or love that space, I can find that I still have them with me.

I like to plan.  I like to know everything that could possibly happen and have the right two-part epoxy to put it back together.  But now I don’t know and can’t know what will happen so maybe I will have to decide to trust our lives a little bit.  I have always been able to find what I need, or more to the point, I have found that along with a good twenty-five part contingency plan, the big space I’m talking about has been enough, or more than enough for everything.