Stripped away

by Jennifer on October 23, 2009

iStock_000000451694XSmallThis move was a different kind of move than I had always planned. Instead of taking everything we owned, I left a lot of things behind. The move happened pretty fast (though a lot of things had been packed for two years, in the end it was quick and dirty), which left little time to linger over each thing. Instead, I performed a quick triage. Keep. Toss. Sell. Give away.

I knew there wouldn’t be room on the truck for most of our furniture, and we wouldn’t be in our own place again for a while, so we could take only the things we really cared about. The kids’ beds and dressers, my favorite chair, my desk, a few small pieces. It was hard at first to separate emotion from practicality, to take away the layers of memory from each thing. To see a sofa, and not the place where the kids would curl up to watch TV. To see a kitchen table that could be replaced and not see Elle and Hunter’s heads bent over their homework, or the small streaks of paint that Elle had left on it, or to remember the early days when Hunter was small enough to walk underneath it without bumping his head.

For years, I’ve meant to refinish that table, to start over with just wood and sandpaper and brush and stain. But when it came time to move, I gave the table – along with several other pieces of furniture – to a young couple who had just gotten married and were setting up house. I knew they didn’t have a lot of money, and he’s in the Army, about to deploy to Afghanistan for 15 months.  When I saw all of the furniture loaded onto their truck, I had tears in my eyes. Not because I was sad to see it all go, but because it felt so good to pass along some of the goodness that’s been showered upon me these last few weeks. It felt exactly right.

Of all the things I gave away or left behind, that table was the only thing that I thought of later, wondering if I should have tried to hold on to it. I imagine that its new owners will refinish it now and give it a new life. It may yet see many years of homework and paint and PlayDough and comforting meals.

Here, in this lovely neighborhood where we’re living for now, I walk along the sidewalks in the evening and find myself watching the snapshots of life in the squares of windows. The curtains framing the scenes inside. People eating dinner or watching TV. The pictures on the walls. The furniture that fills the rooms.

Because I love the history of things, of houses and antiques and places, it takes  a great effort for me to remind myself that those lovely houses, and those pieces of furniture, don’t really tell the story – certainly not the whole story – of the people to whom they belong. No more than that kitchen table tells our story.

Because if it did, it wouldn’t speak of just the good memories, it would have to tell all of it. It would have to say that most of the time there were just three people sitting at a table meant for four.

So the table – along with so many things – is gone now, and all that the three of us can call our own fits inside a 10 X 15 storage unit. But that’s not the whole truth, either.

In starting over as we have, we’ve left behind so much that wasn’t really needed, the most significant of which was the idea of a life that couldn’t ever have happened the way we hoped or imagined. I gave up what would never be, while putting to rest what never was. It was the only way to make room for another set of possibilities, other dreams, ones that will find their foundation in this new reality.

I hope that my children will come to know someday that what we have left now, what is truly ours, is what is real. The love of our family and friends, this new life that we can make into whatever we want it to be. That our comfort or our happiness isn’t tied to that table or to the other furniture, any more than the wind is tied to the earth. The tethers that hold us in place, that keep us grounded, are the ones that tie us to the people we love.

And though there are days when it feels like we’re starting over from nothing, days when I have to be gentle with this bruised pride of mine, when I’m scared that I won’t be able to manage what’s ahead, when I can’t believe that I’m starting over at this point in my life, I have to remind myself how lucky we really are. Because when everything else is stripped away, we’re still left with more than enough. Something solid and true, something blessedly, perfectly, unfinished.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

tysdaddy October 23, 2009 at 10:21 am

“That our comfort or our happiness isn’t tied to that table or to the other furniture, any more than the wind is tied to the earth.”

Gorgeous and timely reminder.

Now that you’re close, we need to hook up for coffee . . .


Christy October 23, 2009 at 10:25 am

This is a beautiful piece of writing Jennifer. I hope that all of your new stories have the best possible endings. 🙂


Jennifer Harvey October 23, 2009 at 10:44 am

Brian – You might have to go back one post. 🙂 We sailed past Indiana all the way to Maryland…

Christy – thank you, so much…and yours, too.


Tara October 23, 2009 at 11:18 am

So lovely, evoked emotions I thought I had buried a long time ago. My family had to pick up and move once also. I had chills the entire time, ok and now I am crying. Thank you for your beautiful words.


Manic Mommy October 23, 2009 at 12:58 pm

To new beginnings and happy endings, my friend.


Louise October 23, 2009 at 1:42 pm

I think of you every day. The starting over. The stuff in storage. Not knowing what is ahead. But what is ahead is good, no matter if you don’t know exactly what it is. I can’t believe you’re starting over at this point in life, either, but it’s a good, happy “I can’t believe it.” Starting over is fresh and full of possibilities and hope–no matter when it is. It’s better than not starting over for sure.


Jenn @ Juggling Life October 23, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Your eloquence is astonishing–I cannot wait to see where it takes you.


jenrantsraves October 23, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Lots of people ask themselves, “Is this the best life can be?” The strong ones act on that thought. May the winds of change coast you in the right direction.


Boomer October 23, 2009 at 5:30 pm

What a beautiful, meaningful post straight from the heart. I feel no fear here. I feel hope.


Gwen October 23, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Jennifer, this is so lovely, but gently bandaids over so much pain. New tables for you, my dear, and plenty of love to go around them.


Margaret (Nanny Goats) October 23, 2009 at 7:29 pm

It’s a new beginning and it’s all yours. I wish you the best!

I was going to ask you if you wanted to play Scrabble, but perhaps you’re busy unpacking. Or taking walks in new neighborhoods.



yogurtry October 23, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Your poetic insights amidst all the transition are so inspiring and show tremendous inner strength.


Landon October 23, 2009 at 8:28 pm

“Because if it did, it wouldn’t speak of just the good memories, it would have to tell all of it. It would have to say that most of the time there were just three people sitting at a table meant for four…I hope that my children will come to know someday that what we have left now, what is truly ours, is what is real.”

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.
This makes my heart hurt, but in a good way.


flutter October 23, 2009 at 9:57 pm

You are the bravest person I know. You are doing your kids so proud. I love you.


Stacie October 23, 2009 at 11:37 pm

What a beautiful, heart wrenching post. I love it! You really are going to be okay. You are so strong and brave!


Tori October 24, 2009 at 8:47 am

I feel you so much on this. We have had to give things away so much since we’ve moved from place to place. It’s not easy but I know I’m helping others and as long as we have each other nothing else matters. Good things will come again! When we experienced chinese drywall here in sw fl, we had only a few days to get out and no one wanted to buy anything except the big items (furniture) everything else went in a free add on craigslist and boy then they showed up. I gave my girls’ stuff away to other little girls and told them we would get better things soon. Now living in a fully furnished condo we have to wait to get those big girly items back until we buy a home. It’s tough but we get through it. Better days are ahead:) XOXO


Daryl October 24, 2009 at 10:45 am

Here’s to new beginnings and many happy in-betweens before you get to any kind of ending


Indigo October 24, 2009 at 11:38 am

This could have so easily been written by me 6 and half years ago. Seems like an enternity has passed me by since then.

I left what would be an abusive situation for the last time, I left almost everything behind, broken remnants of the life I had lived to that point. I did keep as you have, the things that I cherished above all else. An old Christmas tree that my daughter loved and would take off my hands if given the chance. Ornaments collected with her over the years, a few clay pots, just a few things that reminded me it wasn’t all bad.

Today I look around and there isn’t much in the way of reminders of that past life. I’m stronger now. I actually like myself now as daunting as that used to seem. And most of all I’m living a better life, one I think I was meant to live.

I believe it’s the same way for you dear friend. Things can be replaced, memories and the life you live and hold true inside are irreplacable. Those are the things that keep us grounded. A reminder of what came before and where it begins again. Me? I was 38 when I started over. And I’m not done telling my story and neither are you dear friend, neither are you. (Hugs)Indigo


fancy feet October 24, 2009 at 5:35 pm

“That our comfort or our happiness isn’t tied to that table or to the other furniture, any more than the wind is tied to the earth.”

I saw that tysdaddy quoted this as well, but I just had to put it out here again and tell you that I love how you string words together, that what you said is true. I wish you well in this detour in the road. You seem to be an adventurer at heart and I hope this new path brings you more adventure…the good kind. You are a courageous and generous person.


Mrs. Chili October 24, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Jennifer, in the end, it’s not the material stuff that matters at all. ALL of that is replaceable; but you already know that.

I didn’t know you’d moved to my general neighborhood! (I met your cousin for lunch when she was here). I’d love it if our paths can cross at some point….


Heather October 24, 2009 at 7:28 pm

I have a hard time separating the things from the emotions. You are lucky you were able to see that so clearly. Wishing for only peace and happiness for you.


the mama bird diaries October 25, 2009 at 7:12 pm

So beautiful Jennifer. I’ve been thinking about you and wondering how you are doing.


texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvana October 25, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Loved this – as usual you can express such hope and underlying joy through words that don’t usually conjure such emotions. Thinking of ya and glad things are headed in the right direction.


ByJane October 26, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Wow! Hugs…..


apathy lounge October 26, 2009 at 8:44 pm

How do I love this photo and post? More than words can say.


slouchy October 26, 2009 at 10:52 pm

love you.


Reluctantfarmchik October 27, 2009 at 4:40 am

You are a strong person. And you know how to tell it. I love your blank book – can’t wait to see how you fill it.


amanda October 27, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Whoosh, my first visit and my, but you’ve set the bar high. I expect the soaring joys that lie ahead for you all will help surpass the beauty of this. Thank you for so exquisitely sharing this process.


Cold Spaghetti October 30, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Clicked over from another blog and just wanted to throw in a few words of support for your move and your beautiful reflections on the incredibly hard process of letting go and starting over.


anna see November 3, 2009 at 4:44 pm

This is lovely! May your new situation be full of new experiences and many happy memories.


Chris November 5, 2009 at 9:25 am

As you described the walk in your new neighborhood, I thought about the Little Matchbook Girl. Beautiful piece. You’re an amazingly strong person and talented writer. I hope as each day passes, you and the children continue to feel more and more at peace. Hugs to you.


david mcmahon November 5, 2009 at 9:58 pm

A hauntingly beautiful piece of writing, Jennifer. It has many resonances on several levels.
When you write your first book, I’ll stand in line to have it signed …..


Amie aka MammaLoves November 11, 2009 at 5:57 pm

While I can’t imagine how scary and unsettling this all must be, there is so much potential and solid love ahead that comes through so beautifully in your words. They give me little doubt of your resilience–no matter how long it takes.


Brandt! January 9, 2010 at 2:10 pm

You write beautifully. It’s eerie .. I made a move the same weekend you did. My two kids, dog, cat and a uhaul trailer, filled with 20 years of life.
It was a five day ride, filled with thoughts for a new life.
You will succeed, your writing says it all.


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