It is moving day. In honor of the occasion the temperature has risen to 90 degrees. Fine weather for moving, a good purging number.
By 4 o'clock, I am standing in the middle of what was once my living room. The room is empty of living now. I am alone except for the fine vintage dirt that was hidden behind an old Victorian chest for nine years.
I am too tired for any more nostalgia. That too has been purged by the heat. Still, there is something stunning about the speed with which three men can suck all the living out of rooms and into a truck.
There ought to be a ceremony for moving day. There ought to be some ritual more formal than the one that faces me now: a mover holding an old Playskool giraffe, relic of a child's childhood, and asking, "Is this going, too?"
The list that I'll sign in a moment itemizes in exquisite detail every Thing that was collected for this space. One by one, Things were placed here. Walls, floors, cupboards were filled. Now, the structure is all that remains, as if left behind by a hungry vacuum cleaner.
Soon we will be filling rooms a mile away. They were emptied by a woman shedding 50 years of habit and habitation for an apartment. Our old house in turn will accept new belongings, new belongers. So will the old house of the people who are buying ours. There is a chain of homes being emptied and filled along this lineage.
A week ago, on the other side of the country, in San Francisco, my Great Aunt Polly died. She had a passion for collecting, this tiny woman who kept track of all of us. The Things that she had gathered around her over nearly nine decades are also being packed: china that was carefully selected, furniture chosen deliberately, jewelry with its own history, expressions of her own taste. These Things will be divided.
I have today a sense of some universal pulsation. Homes emptied and filled, Things collected and divided. Each little universe, expanding and contracting and expanding. My great aunt was the curator of her collection and her clan. Without a center, people cannot hold forever. Universal laws apply to families, too. Some will inevitably be drawn to other galaxies. Which will, in turn, expand.
Once, at an antique show, I bought a 19th century photo album that still had family pictures in it. Someone had carefully pasted in all the photographs of people who were important to her or him. What had happened to that family? Were there no heirs, no one interested in these photographs?
I emptied that small house of its people and replaced it with my own. This album, too, is in transit today, between homes.
There's something like this in the way we live our lives. My great aunt accumulated platters of blue Meissen china, but also memories. We all do that. Our lives are museums of private experiences. Some we give a prominent place in our display cases, some we put away in crates, some we try to forget.
But we each have catalogs full of events, impressions, ideas. We acquire them over time, becoming more complex, elaborated, crowded.
We distribute some of these things before we die. We disseminate an idea, contribute a gesture, an attitude, a memory. We also leave behind empty space.
The room that I am standing in, the room which once was a living room, echoes today. It seems smaller, not larger, in our absence, already contracting.
Tomorrow, between owners, it will be cleansed. Next week this house will begin again. So will we. Our minds are already expanding the new house. And yet I have the sense of cycles, always cycles.
The mover hands me the itemized list. I sign it. It's hot in this house and beginning to pour outside. Time to leave.