It’s a strange thing, packing up a life and heading off into the unknown. It’s funny what a life comes down to, really.
In a world of regulations, a life is constrained into ticky-boxes. There are accounts to be cancelled or suspended and the problem of redirections when you have no forwarding or returning address. All the notifications, proof of travel, suspension and cancellation fees: yhe official records of our lives contain nothing of ourselves at all.
So where do we keep ourselves? Much of our identity is drawn from our surroundings – the place we live and the things we own – but these too are insubstantial in the scheme of things. In the last fists-full of time I had left in Hobart I sold or gave away so many things; my car, half my furniture, half my clothes…
My fridge and washing machine went to friends in need of working white-goods, and if I return I may claim them back. Fiction books were given away to people I know will love their stories as much as I have. The non-fiction I could part with – old textbooks no longer referred to – will be sent overseas where they may be of some use once more. The enormous desk I swore I’d never move again and its matching bookcase are on permanent loan to a friend. The couch and armchair I sold, along with my ever-reliable first car.
Foodie friends inherited the pantry contents I couldn’t use up: a dedicated collection of interesting spices and usual ingredients. Garden tools went to another friend with plans to tame the wilderness of his small yard. Stationery and aromatherapy collections found happy new homes. Even my microwave and toaster were dispatched to where they would be more useful. Loads of clothes found their way to charity along with non-essential kitchen things. Even the tip shop received a load of useful things. Very little went into the bin: I was quite determined to waste nothing useful.
Rationalised down, the stuff that matters comes to very little: a box of photo albums and old notebooks; a little jewellery with sentimental value; books containing useful knowledge; art that means something special to me; small knick-knacks that tell important stories or whisper of powerful dreams.
Rationalised down, I kept the stuff that costs too much to replace: the basics of a cook’s kitchen, good warm bedding and linen, warm winter coats, electronics, enough furniture to set up a new home.
Everything I’m keeping has been carefully stowed, filling half of a friend’s spare room, and this, I think, speaks of what a life is when de-constructed and dissembled. I have no home right now, and the possessions I brought with me are few (clothes, references, my camera and laptop, a small pharmacy’s worth of medications and a confused collection of hopes, dreams and fears), but what I do have is my community, my connections.
Friends are keeping my things for me. Friends helped me pack my life into boxes and tuck them away. Friends provided a warm bed and dinner for three homeless nights before I flew out, and friends keep in touch now and check that I’m ok.
What is a life but the network of people we choose to share it with? The people who help us to define ourselves, and to find ourselves when our wanderings take us so far away from the familiar. We are our actions and our choices: our relationships are our riches and our most important resources.
What does a life come down to? Not administrative records nor possessions, but to the communities we create, the friendships we nurture, the family we choose and the impressions we leave on each other. Our actions and interactions: these are what matter. This is the legacy we leave behind.
This is my life. What I have matters little. How I choose to live it and who I share it with mean the world.