My Life Passed Before Me, But I Wasn’t Dead

My life flashed before me, but I wasn’t dead – or dying faster than anyone around me.

Humorously – and mercifully – I’ve seen glimpses before. For example, I brought color into my yard, and the two 12-inch painted tin butterflies were wonderful—five years ago. So I added copper animal-topped plant stakes, brightly-colored flowered pots, wing-flapping giant dragonflies, and tin art forms that look like flowers in a picture frame. My neighbor admired how I brought the yard to life, but the summer sun is brutal and beauty rarely lasts a year in Arizona.

I foresaw my landscaping become a hodgepodge of faded birdhouses, feeding stations, ornaments and wishful thinking. I won’t become a “cat-lady,” but I will be an old woman peering out from a yardful of discolored ornaments that, to me, look as bright as the day I brought them home.

This week something changed. It hit me like a ton of bricks, though, gratefully, I’ve not yet been hit with even half a ton. Here’s what happened. Even before we bought it, this Frank-Lloyd-Wright-esque house appeared to have little storage room. Moving in proved that correct. Living here nine years has emphasized it. We’re regularly packing away cherished books, clothing and other items into our “short basement,” at 5’7″ technically a crawl space.

Streamlining, we sold our carpet shampooer at a fund-raiser, but living as we do, not exactly in a dust bowl but in the desert, I decided we needed serious professional help cleaning the bedroom and den carpets. I surveyed contractors, called one to book an appointment, and learned we’d need to move “little stuff” off the floors we wanted steamed.

In my mind, each room needed only two or three small things carried out for the carpet cleaning the next Tuesday. But as I relocated those few things, I saw more and more…five, six, eight trips I made from each room with armloads of stuff into the “short basement.”

However, my first trip down that single step into the so-called “crawl space” shocked me. The aisle through was blocked by a tower of boxes that had fallen over. I didn’t know from where or how, but it barricaded passage. Suddenly only two more days to move little tables, plastic plants, ornamental chairs, stacks of books—stacks and stacks of books—lamps, chairs, the sewing table, ad infinitum, seemed too few.

And there it was. My life flashing before me, in a more profound and final way than when I surveyed my two-dozen aging lawn ornaments. This house—all of a sudden I saw with all its tiny rooms 20 years from now with books and magazines and knickknacks and crafts and projects on every flat surface and piled knee deep from the floor up.

I indeed had not become a cat lady but a stack lady. Stacks of ideas to consider, stacks of books and papers to remember, stacks of fabrics with which to create, stacks of materials which might come in handy, stacks of sheets and towels that didn’t fit this decor, racks of clothes that didn’t fit this body – nor the last one I had…

That is the closest I’ve ever come to seeing the end of my life. I’ve fantasized being vigorous till 84 and wise till 92–possibly alive beyond that. I’ve thought about my fans and niece and nephews collecting my writings and publishing my incredibly amazing thoughts so that I become posthumously famous (I would have to be alive after death to appreciate this).

What I had not considered was leaving behind a vast wasteland of stacks and racks and packs of stuff of questionable usefulness for some one or ones to sort through or simply hire a hauler to take it all away.

This was the first time I felt so mortal, so close to the latter part of my life, definitely over the hill and on the side of it where gravity pulls all manner of things and stuff into my sphere so that I am surrounded by and encumbered with all of the things that were once important to me and things I kept because they might become important to me…ever full of hope, optimism and dreams for the future…

My life flashed before me, and I still have 20 or so years to pare down my hopes and dreams. That’s tough. When you save something, you don’t think about how ridiculous it may seem to someone after you’re dead, because you do not even contemplate not being here. You collect and revere and save and store and stack stuff to prove you are here and that you will always be here, until you are not.

Then what?

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4 Responses to My Life Passed Before Me, But I Wasn’t Dead

  1. Linda McCabe says:

    Love it!

    I had that experience lately but it was cleaning out someone else’s large house after they could no longer even come visit it. Stacks and boxes, carefully labeled before their last move and not even opened in the current house. Nothing like sorting through someone else’s junk to recognize what your own at home will look like when you are gone.

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