“Make use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens.” Epictetus
“So are you going to do it all in a day and half?” my friend Tatiana said. We were sitting in the wonderful Oryzae restaurant in Squamish. It was March 10th, prior to my reading at the Squamish Public Library. I had told her about the task that lay ahead of me: clearing the contents of my parents’ five-bedroom house in Calgary in order to put it up for sale. My parents were gone. It was time.
I think I laughed out loud at Tatiana’s question, or perhaps it was simply a restrained snicker. I know I wondered: man, am I that predictable? It always comes as a surprise to me when friends, colleagues, acquaintances and perfect strangers I’m meeting for the first time see through my need for order, my desire for getting through my various tasks, and my obsessive compulsive tendencies. Believe it or not, I don’t see this in myself sometimes. Okay, I know I can be delusional.
We arrived in Calgary on Friday, March 13thjust after the World Health Organisation defined Covid-19 as a pandemic and Canada had ramped up efforts to “flatten the curve” of the virus spread. Since then—one short week—several provinces have declared a state of emergency and many businesses have either closed or limited their hours. Doing simple tasks, let alone more complicated ones such as the disbursement of family heirlooms and the sale of other items trudged to a halt.
I felt blocked at every turn. This usually sends me into a tailspin, beginning with frustration and nose-diving into despair. As I’ve said before, I like to move things forward. I have a plan and typically it doesn’t matter what comes up, I stick to the plan. Isn’t that how stuff gets done? As I write this, I see I’m also a bit ridge. Funny what you discover about yourself when you’re not really looking.
Not to be undone by the circumstances, I continued to move ahead with a few chores (emptying closets, making piles for family members, others for sale). And as the piles grew so did my frustration.
Then I stopped in mid task. I was emptying a box of wrapped Christmas decorations. I remembered Tatiana’s question and added some of my own. What is this slow down telling me? Why now? Why this? Why me?
The task at hand – liquidating a lifetime of possessions and their associated memories requires time and thought. Maybe I’m supposed to slow down and think about the things I’m organizing for disposal. Perhaps I’m supposed to be gentler with myself.
As I picked up the umpteenth Christmas decoration my mother packed for the last time before she died nine years ago, I thought about the many, many Christmases we put up a tree, hung the decorations she either made or bought when she saved enough for a special glass bubble she wanted or thought we’d all like, headed out to midnight mass together, listened to all the excuses my parents made to make sure we believed in Santa Claus for as long as possible, watched my dad climb the ladder to erect the star, how we worried he might fall. These and so many other memories came flooding in and I thought about the last time any of these decorations ever saw the light of day. My father refused to put up a tree after my mom died. Right to the end he would not hear of it.
And with these memories, I replayed Tatiana’s words and realized I’m supposed to go at this slowly. Grief has no bounds and unlike my plans, it has no time limit.
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