Update to The Art of Losing

One house we "lost."
One house we “lost.” Ripon, England

Saying goodbye to our home, our family, our continent—it’s been tough.  Right, right, we’ve been really excited about moving to Germany–and it’s great to be here having adventures.  GREAT.   Still, these things are bittersweet:  bitter and sweet, not one or the other.  My daughter’s heart is still breaking because she misses her friends back home.   My son aches for a familiar friend to skateboard with in front of our house.  And  I’m still mourning the hope of having Thanksgiving with family, of playing golf with my gang, of walking back into my classroom for fall semester at AUM.  The list goes on for each of us.

But these lists aren’t ours alone, and they don’t apply only to us itinerant types.   You can live in the same state all your life and still experience moments of overwhelming loss:  when you walk into a room full of laughing relatives and expect to see your uncle, the consummate storyteller, sitting in the center of the laughter (but he passed away last year and his seat is empty); when you step out into a balmy southern evening and hear the cicadas and tree frogs and have an overwhelming sense that you’ve just stepped out of your grandmother’s house, headed to the backyard with a glass of sweet tea in hand (but she passed away 29 years ago);  or even when a Violent Femmes song at high decibel puts you right back into a moshpit of a party with your high school and college friends (but you are driving up I-85 with your kids in the back of a station wagon).  Memory is a sticky substance–thank God.  And I think that, as much as it sticks to us, we stick to  it also.

I’ve been mulling this over all morning after being hit by the sting of a lost “momento” of my life story.  It goes like this:   Yesterday, we picked up our car from a port on the North Sea.  We’d shipped it from the States about two months ago.  (Despite paying a hefty–h-e-f-t-y– sum to send it over the Atlantic and through customs, it seems that the shipper inflated a small raft underneath the chassis and paddled it over the ocean himself.  This is the only explanation I can offer for the insane timeline.  But back to my story–)  I had the car inspected before getting German plates put on this morning, and it passed with the stipulation that I scrape the dealer’s decal, indicating a city in North Carolina, off of the back of the car.  They had their reasons–logical enough, if uninspiring–but my heart sank a little as I scraped away.

I am a Carolina girl.  I may look like a vagabond to you, with a crazy long list of places I’ve called home in recent years: Chicago, DC, Connecticut, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, England, Turkey, Germany.  Each of those places has left an indelible mark.  I wouldn’t want to lose any of them, but especially not my roots in North Carolina.

However,  I lose a little bit of each of them in unexpected moments–like bits of produce that spill from my cart as I bump along a country road, I shed bits here and there–and I hate that.  So this morning, I obediently scraped the North Carolina decal from the back hatch of my wagon, mourning that badge of “who I am” that I’d been carrying around for over a decade.  I am still a Carolina girl, but I’m no longer emblazoned on the highway–that shouldn’t sting much, but it does.  Like everyone I’ve ever known, I like to hold tight to who I am and what (and whom) I’ve loved.  And the artifacts of life are dear to me for that reason.   But like everyone I’ve ever known, I find life prying little bits of this away from me.

 

 

As a postscript, I offer up the words of Elizabeth Bishop’s  beautiful poem about loss–in all of its incarnations, big and small.  She said it so much better than I can, so I’ll let her words stand:

One Art

BY ELIZABETH BISHOP

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

 

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

 

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

 

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

 

Boxing Up My Life

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My material things don’t equate my life–let me just say that up front.

And yet.

I’m a magpie.   I collect threads and scraps as I move along, and they pad my nest.  No, that’s not exactly it.  They become the fabric of my nest.   The baubles I collect as I keep wandering represent my life. And it’s hard to watch them all be packed up, some to load onto a slow boat to Germany and some to sit in storage for a couple of years.  So many of my things feel like old friends, like artifacts of adventurous times, not like run of the mill stuff at all.

And, yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I have too much “stuff” too.  I’m not proud that among the boxes being packed up in my house there are “As Seen on TV” products, old DVD’s and VHS tapes of bad sitcoms, some dog figurines…well, it just gets ugly.  But let’s focus on the beauty here:

There’s the portrait of Teak, the first dog my husband and I owned–so beautiful and so smart.  He was the beginning of a small menagerie of children, dogs, and goldfish who share our life.

There’s the old dollhouse from England, bought at auction.  It’s a Tudor, half-timber design, handmade, and sporting a “Toy Town Antiques” sign over the door  and a little antique shop in the front room, visible through the window.

There’s the 300 year old walnut chest that may or may not house a ghost.  (We call her Emily.)

The church pew from the Ripon Cathedral in our old hometown of Ripon,  England  (legitimately bought, not carried out of the cathedral–thanks for asking).  It is quite beautiful, but impossible to look at without imagining the people who were there before you.  Brides and widows.  Carolers and clerics.  Young, old, rich, poor, inspired, and downtrodden.  A microcosm of life on one short bench.

There’s the  old pocket Bible from WWII that bears King George’s stamp and message to soldiers in the front cover, and is partially  hollowed out in the middle so the owner could hold cigarettes or pass notes.  It came from the estate of a former British soldier; he was a POW in the Pacific theater.

The Turkish carpet we bought from a man affectionately (?) known as “the one-armed bandit” in Kizkalesi, Turkiye.  He lived in a coastal town not too far from where we lived and knew our car the minute we drove into town for the weekend.  He’d flag us down, bring us into his home, close the curtains, and then pull out his stash of carpets, jewelry, and antiquities for sale.   All a little shady, but in a seductively  high intrigue way.  We felt like James Bond in Istanbul, wheeling and dealing.    And, yes, he  had just one arm. (No doubt, there’s an interesting back story there.)

The list goes on.  And on.  And on.

Each item is its own story–some love stories, some comedies, some tragedies, some mysteries.  Inanimate objects?  No way.

Some of it is just stuff.  But so much of it runs deeper than that.  The artifacts of a life lived and loved.  Who could possibly fit that into a box?

 

*If you have stories to share of “found objects” that have become part of your life, I’d love to hear them–leave a comment.

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The boxing has begun.

And now for something completely different. . .

Snow in Ripon, England. Winter of 2009.
Snow in Ripon, England. Winter of 2009.

I should have seen it coming, this business of pulling up stakes and moving overseas again. All the signs were there. And I was no novice.

But I didn’t.

Back at Christmas, I told my sister that I thought something was coming on. I felt a re-invention, a sea change, just on the horizon, but I couldn’t pin down just what it was going to be about. A midlife crisis, I assumed. (At 47, that’s what you always assume.)

Scroll out by a few weeks, and I would find myself in the kitchen of my Montgomery, Alabama home, drinking coffee and looking out the window at snowfall. Yes, SNOWFALL. In Alabama. THAT, my friends, is a seismic event. And here’s the thing about seismic events: sometimes they are the main show, sometimes they are the aftershock, and sometimes they are the foreshock. The rumblings of something bigger to come.

Silly me, I treated this snow as an aftershock. I got nostalgic for the 4 years we’d spent living in Yorkshire, England–the cold, wet, and absolutely glorious years. Since moving back stateside, we’d been in the Deep South–just as wet as England (not usually rainy, but so muggy that you could wring your shirt out and collect a trough of water most summer days), but never, NO NEVER, snowy. Yet, here I was. Drinking coffee and watching downy flakes fall. Ah, nostalgia.

Scroll out by a few weeks again. My husband has just returned from a two week business trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Home 36 hours. Sitting across the breakfast table over still-warm coffee. And comes the shock. Not the vague rumblings of something at a distance. The main event. “I got an email before you woke up this morning.” I sip my coffee and turn a sleepy Sunday morning eye his way. “We’re moving to Germany.” I choke on my coffee, splutter, and mutter, “What?” I don’t remember exactly the conversation that ensued, except (and this I’m not proud of) a threat that if this was his idea of a joke, bad things–seriously, seriously bad things–would come his way.

Suddenly it all made sense. The sea change. The rumblings of something on the horizon. The re-invention, the tough changes, the big adventure–the whole enchilada, man.

So, now, the hard part begins. Tying up the loose ends of our life here. Packing up our worldly goods. Figuring out the logistics of an overseas move. Comforting our kids, who are leaving a great life they know and love. Moves are hard; hard and sharp edged. But I keep putting my ear to the ground and hearing those rumblings of something out there, just a few short weeks away now. Something big and astonishing. Another chapter in our lives as expats. New travels, new customs, new eyes to see a new world.

I’ll send you postcards from the road.