Leaving things behind

I’ve been editing my life lately. Consciously, even stringently.

But not in a self-punishing way. Not in a denying or depriving way.

It started–this life editing, self-editing–because of the circumstances of our last move. We left Puerto Rico last June, planning to go back in December.

Instead, in December, I asked my husband for a separation. We would stay in St. Louis. Family members sheltered us with space and with love. We enrolled our kids in the local schools.

I moved from one day to another in a kind of blur, a haze of unknowing, letting myself realize slowly that going back was not an option.

It never is, but we keep trying.

A month ago, the kids and I moved into an apartment. It is a small, cozy nest, furnished by many gifts and a few secondhand purchases. I keep a keen eye on what comes through the door, what is allowed to take up space here.

I measure carefully.

There is no room for what does not belong.

It’s painful to realize what does not belong to you. To be honest about what is not working. To see for yourself what you cannot hold close, no matter how much you try. It is jarring, shocking, a violation of your trust in the familiar.

The shock gives way to acceptance. You tiptoe forward, you sneak toward it. It’s an acceptance you can’t face, not quite, not yet. You have to come at it sideways.

You drink a glass of water over the sink in the kitchen and push yourself an inch closer.

You wake up and turn on the ceiling fan and take another step.

Closer, closer.

Sometimes you cry on your yoga mat. Stay in child’s pose another minute, sink deeper into your hips, let the floor hold you. Cry like it’s an offering, a payment for your sins, then take a deep breath. Stand up, shaky, and realize you moved another step.

I took the smallest bedroom and filled it up with myself. The curtains have rainbows. The double bed is covered in soft whites, pillows stacked in one corner. I lean back with a journal in the morning, with a book at night. Sometimes all I do is look at the pages and cry.

The closet is full of my clothes. I remove the shirts I don’t wear, the pants I pull on and immediately take off. There is no room here for these discarded parts of myself, these outgrown pieces of identity: the most stringent editing must be the editing of myself.

I cannot be who I was here. There is only space for who I am.

It is powerful to say what you have chosen out loud. It is powerful to say: Yes to this, No to that. It is defining. It is limiting, too. But it is the power to shape the universe, to pull it around you the way you want it to be, to exert yourself upon what is malleable.

There is so much we cannot change. So much that is not at our command, that does not come when we beckon, does not go when we dismiss.

Most of life stands beyond control, beyond understanding. Most of life gives us only one choice: accept, or resist.

So where we have choices, let us take them. Let us be discriminating. Let us edit carefully. These choices are gifts. Perhaps they are tests: not tests of whether we will make the right choice, but whether we will choose at all.

I think it matters: to take responsibility when you can, to let yourself be powerful in the small measures of what you do control, to exert your will upon the world. To look at the pieces of your life, of yourself, and say: This can stay. That must go.

And then, to live with gratitude in the atmosphere created both by what you have chosen and by what you cannot control. Gratitude walks the line, knits the two parts together.

Outside our apartment there is a row of trees. Between the trees and the wall, there is a tiny balcony. It holds a single rocking chair.

I can sit in that chair, surrounded by the sounds, the air, the shade and sunlight, the moving trees, the noisy birds, the cars and people, the parts of life that immerse me, touch me, and remain always out of my control. And I can go inside. Look at the painting on the wall, the peonies on the table, the movement, the life happening in this defined space: here is what I have chosen, what I have drawn close to me, and here is the space left open by what I have released.