I am not someone who relishes surprises, and I happen to be married to someone who not only loves to surprise, but is expert at planning them. For example, for my 40th birthday he planned an elegant surprise luncheon with my lovely women friends as guests. More recently, he flew in my dear friend from Ohio for a surprise birthday weekend at a luxurious spa. What could have been more generous and loving. However, there was also the time very long ago when the kids were young, and I was working full-time in a demanding job, and all I wanted for my birthday was a quiet evening reading in bed. All of a sudden friends were in our bedroom shouting "Surprise!" I faked my delight.
I understand my discomfort with surprises has to do with loss of control, but I also know how much I love the anticipation and even the preparation, leading to something special.
A Surprising Question
Therefore, I was surprised, yes surprised, when during retreat time at the beginning of 2013, one of the questions that arose during my quiet time was, "Will it be a year when I surprise myself?"
It is one thing for someone to surprise you, whether it is with a totally unexpected gift or perhaps a response you would not have anticipated, but quite another when you surprise yourself.
The Surprise of Letting Go
Now that 2014 has arrived, I have been thinking about this question and yes, 2013 was a year when I surprised myself. The first surprise that comes to mind, of course, is related to our move to St Paul. One of the tasks we have had to do because we are drastically (and willingly, even eagerly) downsizing is sell or dispose of large pieces of furniture. Antiques we have loved and used in a variety of ways. The one I most dreaded parting with was our harvest table bought for our 1802 farmhouse. In our Middleton house it did not fit in the dining room, but instead became my desk in my large lower level office. I loved spreading out my work on that desk, books and papers and laptop, a candle and other treasures, and while I worked, I could recall memories of Thanksgiving dinner at that table or gatherings of my women's spirituality group or easy meals at one end for just my husband and myself. We had added our own patina to that simple farmhouse table, and I thought parting with it would be wrenching.
Reluctantly, I listed it on Craigslist, along with many other items, and surprise, it was the first item to sell. A bigger surprise to me was that I had no trouble letting go of the table or any of the other things I had loved and enjoyed over the years. It was more than recognizing that it was only "stuff," I was letting go of, but it was recognizing that in order to move on, I needed to shed layers of our material life. In our case, a lot of things!!!! And that process will continue for a long time, in order to live more simply and sparer in a much smaller home.
The desire to move forward, to be where we want to be, to focus more on the people in our lives, rather than taking care of possessions, and in my case, to create spaciousness for writing and other growth-giving, life-sharing endeavors, is stronger than clinging to the "stuff," and then mourning its passing. I hasten to add that I loved the process of gathering and have great memories of wandering country roads in search of antique shops, and then finding just the right spot for the acquired treasure. I hope our home will always be a place of beauty and comfort and now in this new little house, I once again am happily home tending, creating our nest.
At the same time, I surprised myself with my ease of letting go. Of course, I realize letting go of stuff is not anything like letting go of people whom I love or as time goes on of my own abilities or capabilities or vision of myself, but now is the time to learn the skill of letting go.
Words of Wisdom
Here's what Joan Chittister http://www.benetvision.org/vitaJoan.html says in The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully as she describes this stage of life being one in which we "travel light."
When I look around the crowded room and wonder why I
am keeping the large desk when a smaller one would do
just as well, something inside of me is beginning to change.
When three sets of dishes are two sets too many, I have
begun to need more than just things. When the house is
too crowded and the car is too big and the perfect lawn
too much of a bother, I have begun a whole new adventure
in life…It is the shaping of the soul that occupies us now.
Now, consciously or, more likely, not, we set out to find
out for ourselves who we really are, what we know, what
we care about and how to be simply enough for ourselves
in the world.
A burden of these years is the temptation to cling to the
times and things behind us rather than move to the
liberating moments ahead.
A blessing of these years is the invitation to go light-
footed into the here and now--because we spend far too
much of life preparing for the future rather than enjoying
How do you respond to surprises and what has surprised you about yourself recently? How are you challenged by the idea and process of letting go? What are the fruits of letting go for you? I am eager to know.