Love and Impedimenta
I was talking to my Uncle Clint about the process of packing up house and figuring out what to take and what to give away or sell, and he said something along the lines of, “You’re dealing with the impedimenta of life.”
I love when I hear a new word. It’s like when you get a bag of peanut M&M’s and find one that is actually two joined like siamese twins. Something wonderful has happened! The world is even bigger and more surprising than you thought!
I was anxious about packing, afraid of losing things I loved. I’d moved a number of times in the past five years, and I thought I had my possessions down to the essentials: books, notebooks, art, pens, clothes…a drawer full of random plugs…two drawers of newspaper clippings about my mom…rocks I’d collected, shells…boxes of old photographs. My first doll and first stuffed animal. Socks that didn’t have a partner. File folders of old writing, my daughter’s art projects, her report cards. Drawers of bathroom products: six kinds of shampoo, eight kinds of essential oils, sixteen bottles of vitamins, most of which I forget to take.
The list goes on. And on.
Whenever I am on a path that is right and true, people step in to help, and my friend Joyce seemingly came out of nowhere with the incredible offer to help me clear out my stuff. I wouldn’t have to think about where it all was going. I’d just point to it and say, “This goes,” and Joyce would put it in her car.
One of the hardest things about giving away, for example, the pencil made from coffee grounds I’d bought at CW Pencil Enterprise in N.Y.C. was that I’d decided the pencil was special, and, by proxy, so was I. How could I just get rid of something I’d chosen? How could I get rid of something that somehow made me a better person?
(For those of you whose mother did not keep you when you were young, this act of object relinquishment is like a finger plucking the thickest, weakest string in your gut. So there’s that, too.)
But here’s the thing: if I were to draw you who I thought I was at my core, it would be someone standing outside, arms open, no possessions in sight except the clothes on my back. I say I value freedom more than I do possessions. Why, then, do I hold on to the things I own so closely? What am I afraid of losing if I have the freedom I claim to want, the ability to walk up a hill without pushing a cartload of All this shit is mine?
Words matter. I did not just write All these treasures are mine. I wrote shit. That means I am spending $90 a month on my storage space to keep my shit under my jurisdiction. Granted, last week when I went through the things filling this space with Joyce, they didn’t feel like shit. In my hand they felt like treasures: this painting, this wood box, this Monopoly game. But they were in storage. My need for oxygen and friends and food is so great that I meet them face to face on a daily basis. If I put any of them in storage, I’d be toast. You generally don’t put what you really need away in the dark where you have to drive twenty minutes to see it.
On Tuesday I’m going to see someone to talk about my money management skills. Which blow. The way I manage money is to earn it and then spend it, and often the other way around. I missed the whole save and plan part of life. This became achingly clear as I watched Joyce pack hundreds of hours I’d spent working into her car. I’d worked as a teacher, as a massage therapist, as a tutor, as a coach, to buy those pillows that were now jammed behind the stand-up desk that was on top of a pile of yoga blankets. Or if I hadn’t worked to buy those things, one of my husbands had. Or a friend had. I felt ashamed that I was getting rid of so much work as I watched Joyce drive away, her car filled yet again to the roof.
There’s a short meditation I’ve been listening to lately on the Insight Timer app (thank you, Lisa!) called Being Love. It’s by Ram Dass, and his voice is so slow and careful, I wonder if this recording wasn’t created post-stroke. He ends the session by saying. “We are love itself,” and then he sinks to a whisper, repeating, “We are love, we are love, we are love.” You hear him, and it sounds like he may not be long for this life, and so you listen even more closely, and then he whispers even more softly, “Be love. Be love. Be love,” and you know he is right because it feels as if he is talking to the center of your brain.
I am not always kind to people. I am judgmental and I want them to behave in ways that please me. I want them to act in ways that make me feel comfortable and at ease. Like the things in my storage unit, like the things in the rooms in which I live, my lack of loving is an impedimenta to my journey of a life marked by wild acceptance and love.
Impedimenta is equipment for an activity or expedition, especially when considered bulky or or cumbersome. Life is an activity or expedition, and we, as Cheryl Strayed did when she set out on her Wild trek, often over pack and then suffer from the weight of all we carry: credit card bills, garages with no room for cars, objects that need to be dusted, watered, insured, kept safe. The things we own can keep us from tending to the things that often learn to muffle their own cries for love and attention: our body/minds—our sweet selves—and our spouses, our partners, our children, our friends, the barista who put a heart on our cappuccino. These muffled cries come out later as sickness or disassociation or depression. They don’t just muffle into happy quiet.
Tim O’Brien wrote about the things the men carried in the Vietnam War: the letters, the bombs, the cut-off thumb. He wrote about the impossibility of telling a true war story to someone who had not been in the war. He wrote about love and loss and isolation and heartbreak. Life. He wrote about life and the impedimenta the soldiers had to carry that destroyed it.
I believe in people more than I believe in things, and yet it’s so much easier to close myself off in a room full of things than to have even one person share space with me. There is so much impedimenta I carry even after Joyce drives away. My teacher Ehud Havazelet wrote a book called What is it then between us? and I wonder, if there was a photograph of you and me, what things would fill the space between the skin of my chest and the skin of yours?
What keeps me from being fully present to you, to myself?
What can I let go of to exist more fully in love? Judgement? Thoughts of yesterday? Self-recrimination? Fear? Low blood sugar? The desire for this moment to be other than what it is? What if I were to die five minutes from now? Would I even be in the room to say goodbye?
All of this is to say I’m meeting with Joyce again in two days, and this time I’m telling her to take it all. Michelangelo supposedly said something to the effect that the way he found David was to take away all the bits of stone that didn’t look like him. I want to know what’s under the impedimenta. I want to know what, at the end of the day, I am made of. And I want to know the same of you. Why? Because life’s more fun when we drop our masks. It’s wilder. More interesting.
One reason to acquire objects is to fig leaf yourself, to hide your nakedness, to make you feel you are acceptable, lovable. You buy the house, the car, the fence, the weathervane. You stand in your living room, assessing the couches, the rugs, the pictures on the wall: Am I okay yet? Can I rest? and the answer, almost always it seems to me, is No.
I want to be myself, and I want to meet you as yourself, and I want to see what we can make happen together. I want to see what we can create. I want to hear you laugh. I want to hear you cry. But mostly I want to hear the even inhale and exhale of our breaths together, because we have all the time in the world, and anything is possible.