Monday, August 15, 2011

UCLA Week Six: Personal Essay

I come from a family of pack rats. My Granny Dodie had an entire bedroom in her two-bedroom apartment devoted to boxes of stuff she wasn’t using. My mother had sets of good dishes we only looked at, and never used, unless it was a special occasion. My sister saved paints and markers lest they were used up rather than enjoy them for creative endeavors.

I have acquired a lot of stuff. This stuff takes the shape of family heirloom antiques, photos and memorabilia from my childhood and now my daughter’s. I’m really getting tired of carting it around and I’m wondering if I could be just as happy to walk away from it all? I’m an emotional hoarder if not on some level a material one too, and it’s beginning to hamper my freedom.

Recently, my favorite baby dolls were liberated from an old box for my daughter to play with. “I would have thrown that out if I’d known you were keeping it all these years.” Steve said to me.

My husband has little attachment to anything material. He buys and sells his toys as soon as a new one catches his fancy. He does not affix an emotion to an object. That’s one reason why we fit. If only I’d met my husband before I chose to buy a breed of dog that lives for 20 years. Sigh.

The Indian sage Patanjali says; the essential companion is non-attachment. Learning to let go of the many attachments, aversions, fears, and false identities clouding the true self is the way to freedom. I meditate on this logical concept with every yoga practice trying to make my peace with the release of the burden of my attachments.

Roaming my neighborhood I discover two very curious looking white houses situated side by side. From my vantage I can see the front porch of one house has a narrow pathway clear to the door, otherwise both verandas are piled high with junk. In the corner of the second house by the top step sits one of the most gorgeous mirrors I have ever seen. I decide I want this mirror. I’m already attached to it. Curiosity over the house has got the best of me. What does it look like inside? Is it filled with cats? Clearly this is the home of a hoarder.

According to the Mayo Clinic definition: hoarding is the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them. This is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder often triggered by an emotional loss.

The hoarder spots me and waves a greeting. I compliment her on her hydrangeas, which are heirloom in size and grandeur, full of beautiful blooming blue flowers.

“Come.” She says, “I have a knife in my pocket, I will cut you some.”

While she works at cutting branches off the hydrangea she says; “ I’m Velma I’m 95 years old, I was born right here in this very house!”

Without pause, Velma launches into her history. She tells me of the train stopping on the track behind her house to let all the circus animals off to bathe in the river before the handlers marched them in a parade up Main Street. She tells me of the ice and milk truck deliveries and of her brother in-law named Lolly Pop running his butchery in the out building behind the second house, now crammed with junk. She points to the trees, each one planted for her four sisters upon their first birthdays.

Waving her arm towards the front porch she tells me she wants to have a garage sale but has been too tired to sort through the piles. Then Velma plunges into another story and I see my opportunity to ask about the mirror slip by. Taking Velma’s mirror would come at a cost too great for her, I could not ask after this kind soul so freely gave me a reflection from the mirror of her life. Unlike Velma, I learned I truly do have the capacity and freedom to move, houses, states and countries. I can move beyond my stuff.

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