Discover more from More Beautiful Than Necessary
The Existential Sickness
I've spent too much time on the couch lately
If you’d like to listen to this post, I’ve recorded the audio for it—creaky voiced and a little stuffy. You’re welcome?!
A friend remarked the other day that being sick always puts her in a very existential state of mind, and it’s the truest thing I've heard this week. Tim and I were down with the flu for several days and I am still under a fog of congestion, trying to regain what was lost from three days in bed or on the couch. My ears are ringing with pressure, making me feel far away from myself and the world. I’m questioning everything, evaluating, brooding.
We were behind before we got sick. Where are we now? What even matters? I’ve lost three days of my life and the world continues on.
It makes me feel better to hear from others who’ve been sick, that it took them a long time to recover and maybe they still haven’t, fully. I am tired, and I was tired before this. It feels better to think that everyone is a little more tired, like we could collectively slow the rotation of the earth if we all relaxed a little.
Coupled with the tiredness is my ongoing desire to purge my life, of course. Nothing like being sick and out of oomph to notice all the stuffed corners of your home. I want to empty cupboards and fill up boxes, get rid of every unused thing, and start over.
We once lived in a home with so few belongings and so much storage, I managed to keep a whole kitchen cupboard completely empty, for years. Our current home is smaller on storage but bigger on space, with an attic and three uninhabited bedrooms upstairs. We’ve accumulated a lot over the years, much of it from homeschooling, and the books alone could fill my car two times over with Goodwill donations.
There is nostalgia and sentiment worked into every room and cupboard though, and I don’t think I could just load things in boxes and be done. Life accumulates in the books read and the clothes worn by the people I love, and looking back makes you realize how important many trivial things are, how many "lasts” are captured and stored in your home. You can’t always know what is important in the present, and this is the positive spin I put on those nostalgic feelings: I am remembering what matters.
There is a dead printer in the attic and I don’t know who it belongs to or why it’s there, as well as boxes of books, someone’s dried bouquet of their first-dozen roses, baby clothes and paraphernalia from our first grandson, and bean bag chairs that are well-used but still suitable for the next generation. There is a basket of one daughter’s “home clothes” in the laundry room cubby, where her clean laundry used to wait to be taken upstairs to her room. The “home clothes” are the jeans and hoodies she would wear on weekends home from college, for getting muddy or going hunting in. In the guest bathroom are old curling irons and other toiletries someone uses on visits home. And my living room is still gloriously jungled with extra houseplants from one daughter’s recent move.
My grandma used to mail me boxes of things from around her house-—literal junk mail, old jewelry, craft supplies, a pair of wool socks, a dish towel she had embroidered—and it was always bizarre, but precious. I can’t imagine what she spent in postage, avoiding the ache of getting rid of something that might be valuable and hard to let go of, but relieved by the knowledge that it wasn’t truly gone if she sent it to her only granddaughter. There is a box in the corner of my closet that holds some of the treasures, but most of them I dealt with in a way grandma apparently could not.
This phase of my life has happened so suddenly. Raising and homeschooling kids was a long obedience that felt like it would never end—that felt like the best and only and most important work in the world, because it was, for me, for a time. Despite all the planning and scheduling I did in those years, and in spite of the treasures of wisdom passed on to me by older women, I never could see the future coming. I process things in hindsight1 and don’t always prepare well for the present as it comes—the present being so full of work to do, so alive and here and important and instant. The future begs to be as small as the three meals we’ll eat today, next week’s read-aloud, and tomorrow’s nature walk.
All of a sudden we have three married children and two bachelor sons (one at home and one close by), grandchildren arriving and grandchildren on the way; the aches and doctor visits of old folks, the energy of old folks, the nostalgia and boxed-up treasures of old folks.
I am so glad for it all.
When I look at some of the things we have kept and stored, they remind me that I am so glad for the way it all happened. When the kids text me something beautiful from nature or true in the world or hilarious from their day, I am as rewarded as if they had risen up and called me blessed. We have held on to good things, and we delight in them together.
Nothing was perfect. So much was missed and misplaced. So much more is treasured and can’t be lost.
Today, I promise myself I will fill one box. I will load it in my car and drop it off tomorrow at the Goodwill, and I won’t look back after that. If someone asks where their book is, their hoodie, that VHS they watched over and over as a kid, I will revel in the memory with them2. We can replace the things, if we need to, and we can give in to some nostalgia now and then. But this period of existential sickness tells me that it’s time for a good purge, and time to catch up with my present life.
One of several reasons I don’t write about current events. I know there are real tragedies afoot at all times—please don’t ever think that because a writer isn’t writing about them, she is oblivious. The heaviness of our personal lives is always weighted with the heaviness of the world.
To the 3/5 of my children who may read this essay, let this be a lesson in paying attention to footnotes: mom is purging so get your treasures, quick.