A trip to the basement and letting go of what was

Carole Marshall AGING IN GOOD SPIRITS
Posted 6/19/24

It was time for the visit that occurred every year around late spring. It wasn’t an easy trek. Thanks to bum knees, on each sojourn my footing was less steady, my grip on the railing …

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A trip to the basement and letting go of what was

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It was time for the visit that occurred every year around late spring. It wasn’t an easy trek. Thanks to bum knees, on each sojourn my footing was less steady, my grip on the railing white-knuckle tight. The stairs seemed to creak a bit louder as one by one I maneuvered myself toward the scheduled destination. It grew darker with each step, akin to entering a dank, musty cave.

I switched on my flashlight. Spooky shadows fell across the accumulated debris. The ancient couch we were going to donate was still there, accumulating boxes and bags on its cushions. The old diving wetsuits looked like shriveled bodies hanging from the rafters. Bikes, books, and bundles of unknown contents made moving around safely difficult, but it was June and I proceeded onward to the targeted purpose.

Tripping over old shoes, a pile of magazines, and the treadmill we’re going to start using again one of these days, I uttered familiar words of annoyance: “We plan on tackling this mess, get it cleaned up, presentable, walkable — without having to call the paramedics for rescue.”

Dusty, disheveled, and a bit anxious, I arrived at the far end of the clutter. I’d reached the objective I hadn’t paid any mind to since last year. Clutching the handle, I pulled cautiously. The door squeak was louder than I remembered, or maybe it was a mouse. Anxiously groping for the thin chain hanging from the ceiling, I gave it a hard yank. The light went on and the sudden jolt was like being poked in the eye with a stick. Once I could see, it was familiar. Old coats and jackets hung on a thick rod from one end to the other. Jim’s old cowboy boots lined the floor, and on the shelf, just above the outerwear, was the reason I was there. It was the impetus for my annual trip to the basement closet.

I stood motionless for a while telling myself I didn’t have to do it; asking myself why every spring I felt compelled to visit the closet and stir up a hornet’s nest of angst. My optimism always took over, producing the same answer. “It’s been a year, lots of things can change in that amount of time.”

I reached for the large box. The familiar tormenting pain took over as I backed out of the closet and lowered the carton to the floor. It wasn’t a physical pain that accosted me, but rather an overall feeling of foreboding. I’d been here several times before, and it had never turned out well. Could this time be different?

I knelt down, running my hands over the cover without opening the box. Engaging in the usual self-talk that accompanied this ritual I queried my motivations. “Is opening the box necessary? Do I really have to eye the stuff inside every year?  What’s the point? Am I looking to inspire myself, or trigger negative thoughts leading down a slippery slope?” And then a new question came up, “Are you wasting precious time on what was and missing the beauty of what is?”

Not the first time I wrestled with questions over the box in the closet, but this time was different. I recognized unrealistic expectations, the “what once was” perception, the memories that were nice to have, but presently served little purpose.

As Eckhart Tolle wrote in The Power of Now, “To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time: the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. This creates an endless preoccupation with past and future and an unwillingness to honor and acknowledge the present moment and allow it to be.”

Inspired, I reached to place the unopened carton up on the shelf, but there was one more question. “Why are you putting it back?” Driving to the donation bin I thought about the size eight person who’d get some lovely new clothes and the grounded, grateful size 12 gal bidding a fond farewell to old notions, self-imposed constraints, and the box in the closet.

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” — Carl Jung

 

Carole Marshall is a former columnist and feature writer for a national magazine. Her stories have been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She’s written two novels and one fitness book. cmkstudio2@gmail.com