Friday, March 28, 2014

Liminal Living vs The Impossible Dream

[A. Casolani, 16th century]
We are househunting.

Will our new place be a relatively new condo with no exterior maintenance, plenty of storage, an open floor plan, lots of bathrooms, and no stairs?

Will it be a city rowhouse that is older than we are, has arches and built-in cabinets and red oak plank floors, and is walking distance from a university, bookstores, and libraries?

Whatever we dream of, will our retirement income be sufficient for both the house and, say, groceries?

And will we still be able to live in it when we're crippled, incontinent, and demented?

I've been asking myself that last question with every house I inspect, which is probably why I've been getting more and more depressed. Medieval folk kept cheerfulness at bay by contemplating skulls. An afternoon of looking at potential retirement homes, I've found, also works.

Last week I blogged about our liminal lodging - the apartment we've rented for a few months to tide us over until we find our, um, final resting place. (Snap out of it, LaVonne!) This morning I had one of those blindingly obvious insights that you sensible people have understood all along: Life itself is liminal.

As I mentioned last week, it's good to put a threshold between one phase of life and another. Living in our  rented apartment is allowing us to do that. But I'm deluding myself if I think our next house is going to be permanent - just as suitable to our life in 30 years, when we're 95 and 96, as it is to our life today. I'm glad I figured that out, because I'm not all that excited by houses that would presumably appeal to nonagenarians.

In my search for the permanently perfect place, I've been driving my realtor to distraction ("I keep getting mixed messages from you," she says, and then five minutes later she says, "But you have such specific requirements"). Bless her, she persists in spite of me. She's even cheerful, or at least pleasantly resigned.

However, she did tell me about a friend of hers who made himself miserable for years because he wanted so badly to give up smoking and thereby live forever, and he simply couldn't do it. At age 42, having stopped to help a stranded motorist, he was struck and killed by a drunk driver.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The threshold : making space for the new

[Our former living room]
It has been three months since I posted on Lively Dust or wrote a book review. I was not ill. I did not die. But I did exchange one life for another, and that took all the energy I could muster.

This is a picture of the living room of the house I lived in for nearly 26 years. When I moved into that house, the floor was covered with a dog-stained gray carpet and the walls were light blue. The fireplace was surrounded with shiny gray bathroom tiles. My daughters were 15 and 17.

When I moved out 17 days ago, the floor was hardwood, the walls were Benjamin Moore's Manchester Tan, and the fireplace was surrounded with marble tiles and a hand-crafted oak mantle. My grandchildren are 15, 17, almost 19--and two-and-a-half.

Benedictines use the word threshold a lot. They say it's a good idea not to plunge directly from one experience into another, but rather to pause, recollect, and gather strength before moving on. A threshhold allows each situation to be what it is. It gives a person space to take a deep breath and let go.

We are now living in a threshold apartment while we look for a more permanent place.

In our liminal lodging we don't have a lot of space, but that's OK because we don't have a lot of things either. (Well, a few miles away there's a book-packed storage unit with our lock on it. We don't plan to stay on the threshold forever.) We gave away and threw out a lot of stuff before leaving Illinois. To our surprise, we have also given away and thrown out a lot of stuff after arriving in Maryland. Downsizing is easier when you have no place to put things.

As it turns out, we still have more than we need. Under what scary circumstances would two people need three bathrooms?

I am not a pack rat--I can and do throw things away. I am not a shopaholic, I do not collect things, and I fancy that I live simply. In 65 years of living, 46 years of marriage, and 26 years of being in one house, however, I still managed to accumulate thousands of pounds of unnecessary stuff. How?
  • By hanging on to things I didn't really want. Did I wear that orange sweater in 2013? Yes, once. Did I enjoy wearing it? Not at all. Do I plan to wear it in 2014? No. Out, out, orange sweater!
  • By buying something new without tossing whatever old thing it was supposed to replace. Do I need several dozen mismatched drinks glasses, the unbroken remnants of long-forgotten sets? Only if I plan to invite 30 people for cocktails. Out, out, old glasses!
    [Our threshold living room]
  • By buying a specialized item when I already owned a general item that served the same purpose. Do I need an apple corer, a mandolin, and a food processor when I already have knives? Well, maybe need is too strong a word, but I do enjoy using them...
Right. Even we downsizers don't have to toss everything that isn't strictly necessary. Some non-utilitarian things--my framed French posters, for instance--seem even more important as the old inexorably recedes.

It feels wonderfully light, though, to be free of so much unwanted stuff as we stand on the threshold, looking back at the cherished old and ahead to the exciting new.