Earlier this week we made a new friend. One who is going to bulldoze a house to build a new one. He let us spend some time in the house to see if anything was worth salvaging.
Here’s what I didn’t expect: the wide range of emotions I felt as we went through the house.
All of these:
Elation: I need shelves and this is the mother-load.
Anxiety: I know someone who could use all of this chicken wire. I know someone who could use this dishwasher. I don’t have a big enough truck. What will become of all of this!?
Embarrassment: Is this kind of like dumpster diving?
Greed: I want all of these old bricks. I don’t know what I’d make with them yet, but I want them. Just because I can.
Awe: I haven’t seen one of these in 30 years.
Humor: This IS kind of like dumpster diving. I am a dumpster diver.
Gratitude: So thankful for this opportunity.
Sadness: Look at these old papers and letters from the original owners. Receipts from her antique shop she ran, newspaper clippings saves, cards from loved ones. These people are long gone now. And from this pile of memories they were once very much alive.
Nostalgia: Walking through this old house is like deja vu: the blue carpet, the parquet flooring, the ceramic tile, the blue and white kitchen.
Nostalgia because 11 years ago we lived across the same golf course in a very similar home. We’d purchased it from a family friend. The house was deemed a tear down so basically we only purchased the land it was on. But a lot of hard work made it a home for us:
our Charlotte home back then
I learned to reglaze windows, we renovated bathrooms, and every winter we had a huge oil tank refilled so we would have heat. I loved the history. I loved finding old photos of the family who lived there before us. I loved finding traces of the old wallpaper and bits and pieces of past lives in the big scary basement. And while working in the yard we would get visitors from the golf course, people would stop by and say: you live here? this is amazing. And it was a source of pride. And then one day we decided to walk away from it…we sold it to another family friend who we knew would tear it down and build something brand new:
the rubble of our home
Brett: Would we have been happy in this life?
Me: I don’t know. Maybe. It’s all relative.
Brett: I guess we’ll never know.
Me: And that’s okay too.
Oh the questions: Would we have eventually torn down the house and built a larger one? Would we have been able to appreciate such a beautiful home with huge newer homes going up all around ours? Would we still be working at the banks we’d worked at? Would we have enjoyed the country club life?
Does any of it really matter? It’s just one or two chapters.
The thing is, earlier this week, we ate at the country club with my family a few nights. I felt so much nostalgia for the place. My sister told the waitress how we’d grown up there and even our grandfather had been a member. I remember the humble beginnings when the pool house was just a plain brick rectangle where we purchased frozen candy bars and greasy cheeseburgers. I love the life my sister and her husband have created for themselves there. I love the life my brother and his wife have created there too. It’s for them. It wasn’t for us. And that’s what makes life beautiful.
And the replay of questions:
Would I have had more kids if we’d stayed in our old life? Well yes probably.
Would I have been diagnosed with cancer and lost my ability to have more children? Maybe. Maybe not.
Would we have millions in the bank if we’d stayed at our investment banking jobs. Quite possibly.
I don’t know.
I don’t know.
And I don’t have to know.
I can live in the questions.
I can find safety there too.
And sometimes I wish for a tablespoon of it all here and there. Can this kind of life be a side dish? No, not for me. Because I know myself and I bend myself all out of shape because of what others are doing. And in that chapter I would have never seen my husband except for on the weekends. And in that chapter I would have had to hire a nanny to watch the kids so I could work 16 hours a day downtown. There was no way to balance it all. Sometimes there can’t be baby steps, there just has to be a huge leap.
And I think back to that house we were salvaging in pieces only a few days ago: The people who lived in that house probably had similar questions and dreams. Did they live their dreams? I hope so. But now they are gone. And it reminds me how short and fleeting life can be. Their whole life in a blink of an eye. The passing of time marked by boxes of newspapers, antiquated postage and vintage greeting cards.
We’ve walked away from a few of those chapters already and might just walk away from a few more. And those chapters pass in the blink of an eye too. A blink of an eye. A millisecond in all of eternity. But here our lives are happy and full of joy, and it’s not that we didn’t have that before, but it’s much richer I feel. There are varying degrees of happiness and joy. I was re-reading parts of Under the Tuscan Sun this morning and these passages hit me like a ton of bricks:
Wonders. Miracles. In cities, we’re less and less capable of the imagination for the super real, ground down as we are by reality. In rural areas, close to the stars and groves, we’re still willing to give it a whirl.
Is it a whim? It feels very close to falling in love and that’s never really whimsical but it comes from some deep source. Or does it?
I think this rural-ness will be a long chapter, and the thing is….I’m always willing to quickly admit that I was wrong, and shift directions. It wasn’t always that way…. but now ….it is. Now I know that we lose a part of ourselves in the process and we leave things behind that other people would refer to as assets. We walk away from country club memberships. We walk away from sweat and hard work in a house only for it to be bulldozed, shoveled and dumped. And sometimes we grieve for what might have been and the idea of it all. And sometimes we fall in love and we quickly fall out of love. And then sometimes we stumble across opportunities to sift through what others have left behind, and someone else’s trash is another person’s treasure. And we are humbled, and we learn and we grow. And we end up gaining.
And yesterday when I heard the wheels of the tires hit the gravel at the inn I felt a sense of relief. The crunch is oddly soothing and the way the truck rocks back and forth on a country road is something I’ll never grow tired of. Choose your rut carefully is that old saying. Right now I want my rut to be gravel and rocking back and forth.
And I just write it all down so that I can live it all twice.
Writing about this place, our discoveries, wanderings, and daily life, also has been a pleasure. A Chinese poet many centuries ago noticed that to re-create something in words is like being alive twice. –Under the Tuscan Sun