My bedroom closet is filled with boxes of things I haven't looked at in years. Sure, I 've tried to go in there from time to time and set things to rights but it doesn't take much to derail my good intentions. This summer I am headed once more unto the breach, as it were.
My early adult years were marked by turmoil: a failed marriage, single parenting, jobs that didn't quite pay enough, mounting debt. Each time I moved I'd try to pare down but there'd always be a box or two of things that I threw together and then just couldn't face once I got settled.
So far I have been through three boxes. I've had to go out and get a mask and gloves because of allergies to dust. I'm stocked up with allergy meds and my inhaler. I've filled almost two lawn & leaf sized garbage bags. I've brought out the foam gardening cushion because I just can't work on the floor on my knees like I used to.
The health indications are clear: get rid of the stuff while you are young and it doesn't make you sick just to sift through it!
On the other hand, it has been far easier to toss things that once would have upset me: old leases, divorce documents, financial paperwork. The years have given me an emotional distance. I'm grateful for that, at least. It is easy to spot the few treasures sparkling amongst the trash: a few family recipes, childhood drawings by my now-married daughter, an excellent evaluation of my teaching.
In with a sheaf of old school papers was a group faculty photo from the school where I worked for 18 years. I didn't remember it at all. What stunned me was that I looked at myself and could find absolutely no fault with my appearance. Actually, I look beautiful. Of course at the time I thought nothing of the sort. Like many women I've never been happy with the person in the mirror. And I've probably used that as an excuse for perpetuating a negative inner monologue through the years.
All this time I thought that looking in the boxes and facing the past was about pain. Ugly truths. I never thought I'd run into something beautiful. Someone beautiful. Maybe, instead of putting that picture away again, for safekeeping, I should leave it out where I can see it.