Simple needs are best.
Skies so blue. Rooms with a view.
Just give me shelter.
While grabbing the mail a few weeks back, I noticed one oversized envelope with a stamped New York return address.
“5th Avenue” it read. It was sent from a suite in in the Empire State Building.
Yet my Minnesota address was handwritten.
I smiled for a minute, thinking of the many trips I made to the city when I was young.
I thought fondly of one employer who’d put me up in a particularly posh room at the UN Plaza, overlooking the Chrysler Building.
I remember sitting cross legged on my oversized bed at 3:00 a.m. gazing up at that skyscraper shining brighter than the stars overhead.
I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of it all.
But I never quite made it to the Empire State Building.
Was this some kind of a fancy invitation now, I wondered?
Well, sort of.
Inside the envelope was an offer to select a gift to thank me for my many years of service from a more recent employer. They provided me a with a password to use on an internet site.
I retired back in the fall.
The selections they presented me with were dazzling though I couldn’t find any new car batteries or gift cards for dog food included.
Instead I saw regal looking clocks with chimes, delicate diamond bracelets, circular saws, and 24 piece flatware sets.
Nice merchandise indeed, but I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that more than 90 percent of possessions I owned when I retired are no longer around.
In order to downsize to an 800 square foot cottage that same month, I needed to pare down quickly. And I was also in the process of paring down to a 30 hour work week with a non-profit.
It’s pretty clear my lifestyle’s changed.
And I have as well, I was thinking as I took a second look at each of the possibilities before me.
I quickly rejected the handsome clocks. My time on earth is too short to sit and watch each minute tick by.
And diamond bracelets aren’t a must for my current wardrobe of three pairs of faded jeans, two sweatshirts, and a salt stained winter parka.
I then consulted my neighbor who advised me that deciphering the detailed instructions for a circular saw would clearly have me running in circles.
And once my late husband was diagnosed with dementia, I threw all formal dining out the window and became a permanent fan of plastic knives and forks.
I finally decided to set the big envelope aside for a while.
Instead, I stopped over at the local thrift store to take a look at a small rocking chair for $4.00.
I’ve downsized so much I don’t have chairs anymore for my grandkids to sit in when they stop by.
I found walking through the shop was like walking through my own personal history museum, as I’d donated so many items there.
To my left I saw my husband’s colorful collection of silk ties, neatly displayed next to several of his crisp blue checked shirts.
To my right were lovingly crafted pottery pieces that used to sit on our coffee table.
And in front of me was a display of our old crystal pieces.
There stood my tall Tiffany candlesticks, our beautifully etched bowls, and all my elegant vases.
I saw my favorite vase where I once displayed the yellow roses I received each anniversary.
I became a little melancholy.
But only briefly.
I know all the goods I donated will find the homes they deserve.
And I’m helping out a worthy local charity that does a great job of helping clients find food, housing, and jobs.
Today I went back again to view the gift website of my old employer.
And this time I saw something new that had been added.
The gift was described as a ‘creative vision’.
An ‘evolution’ of sorts.
One encased with color ‘creating a dramatic presence’.
The words made me think of what I want for this late chapter of a life.
I quickly hit the ‘send’ button.
An aqua infused crystal vase will be coming my way in 10 days.
It’s a simple gift really, yet shining with light.
And it will bring back color to a landscape once cloudy as it frames the yellow roses I’ll be growing in my new little garden.
What more could I possibly want?
What more could I possibly need?
Not one single thing.
I set my timer for an hour.
And then this unintentional hoarder bagged up 60 items in 60 minutes last Sunday.
Some things went straight to the trash bag, the good stuff to the one marked charity.
Most of the items were owned by other family members. My late parents, my late husband, my daughter, my granddaughter.
Every storm in recent years resulted in an urgent move for a family member. As a result, additional possessions quickly poured into my already packed 1300 foot rambler.
So I was feeling proud for the traction I was making until I opened a closet bursting with old photo albums.
I needed to stop to pick up dozens of loose, fading pictures that went twirling down to the floor.
The first one was of my late brother Scott and my husband on a cloudy San Diego beach.
Scott’s waiving at me, as if to grab my attention and directing me on to the photo above.
It’s a shot of my younger self, so full of joy and dancing on the same beach.
Underneath it I discover another picture. This time it’s a stormy beach in Maine.
And I’m wearing that same expression of pure joy.
I soon find joy’s in every ocean photo of me from the foggy beaches of Martha’s Vineyard to rain soaked sand dunes in Italy.
I choose to believe my brother was trying to send me a message. He knew me so well.
Perhaps it’s a reminder that every storm cloud in life carries the promise of even greater joy thereafter.
I’m going to hold on to that thought.
After looking at the beach photos, I switched my focus the rest of the day to decluttering my mind instead of the house
And I decided to book a flight to the ocean for November.
I’m hoping to find more storm clouds and high tides.
As it’s time for me to dance in the rain once again.
After a decade of caregiving, I’m now focusing on self care and my own plans for the future. But that focus brings with it more questions than answers.
Such as where will I live?
What do I need to survive?
Can I return to the freedom and transcendence of my twenties?
And is that realistic?
What I do know for sure is I’m often overthinking my decisions, which only leads to over stressing.
So with the chirping chickadees beckoning me out into the sunshine, I’m confident exercise is the right path for me this day.
I head to a nearby park reserve.
Snowshoeing down the canal, I hang a right past two smiling teens in plaid shorts basking in 40 degree temps.
To my left as I enter the lake, I dodge holes left by ice fishermen long gone. Though soon I spot new ones being aggressively augured by ice fisherwomen behind a rusting Chevy truck.
I move on.
My final destination is the simple yet sturdy home of a neighbor.
One I’ve never met, though I know this neighbor’s out of town.
Most likely she’s in Florida, as are many Minnesotans this time of year.
We call them ‘snowbirds’ here in the midwest.
As I get closer, I see this snowbird’s home rests atop the tallest tree on the shoreline.
She’s one very lucky bald eagle.
This elegant bird of strength will be soaring back in March to her familiar nest to lay this year’s eggs.
A smart female, I’m thinking.
Nomadic, yet a bird who knows just what she wants and needs to stay centered.
Flying with grace on her return flight to Minnesota, she’ll settle in again to simplicity and beauty.
Maybe there is a lesson for me woven right into her special nest.
I look up and smile at this simply constructed home of strength.
Once the ice melts I’ll be kayaking over again to welcome the bird back home, as well as to thank her.
In the meantime, I’ll return home to work on simplifying my own nest.
It sat on a grassy hill above an art museum, just a few blocks away from a peaceful lagoon.
My life was never more efficient.
Fast forward three decades.
Today, I take a visual tour of my aging home.
I search for what is really me.
I know it’s here.
If I keep digging.
Can it be found beneath Mom’s old photos of people I’ve never met?
Or hiding in the closet behind a daughter’s fading, sequined prom dresses.
Maybe it’s resting next to tired teddy bears, held tightly once by my granddaughter.
Or supporting sagging shelves, laden with heavy art books of my husband’s.
Slowly I begin to bag the memories owned by others in plastic.
Later dropping off the gifts at the thrift shop to be cherished once again.
I, in turn, buy a burlap basket to pack up memories of my own.
Simple reminders of smiles shared, trips taken, and lessons learned.
Though traveling lighter now, I promise myself to leave a little room for new memories still to come.