My mum is finally moving out of the house she’s lived in for 15 years and the one that I lived in – between stints at university – for nearly 12 years. Last weekend, I spent a few days in the UK, sorting through boxes of my stuff. It was a strange few days, a weird mix of happy and nostalgic.
The boxes I left behind were full of old birthday cards, school work and reports going back to nursery, as well as diaries that I’ve been writing in since I was nine – my life in words and objects. Looking through these boxes made me realise how many different versions of myself the past contains. Birthday cards to a baby, from people I don’t remember. Wilful, stubborn 6 year old me (Naomi refuses to write, despite encouragement she insists ‘I can’t write’). Me, at 13, having a crush on Leonardo DiCaprio. Being 15 and able to feel contradictory emotions in one sentence. The pretentious sounding 17 year old, reading too much Kierkegaard. All these me’s that are so different and yet, in a strange way, make sense of who I am now. I can’t help but hope that in ten years time, I will be as different then as I am now from my 16 year old self. Moving to the Netherlands and starting a new job has given me a sense of having somehow ‘arrived’. But looking through those boxes reminded me that arriving is not the point.
It was incredibly hard to distil all those memories down into one or two boxes. I have sometimes felt a little weighed down by possessions and wished that I could throw them all away, keeping only the clothes on my back and a few books. But perhaps the weight of possessions isn’t such a bad thing. I’m reminded of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, a book I read in university and which, I suspect, I wouldn’t like quite so much these days. However, the idea of heaviness versus lightness has always stayed with me:
The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?
As I’ve written on here before, I sometimes feel torn between wanderlust and the desire to feel connected and rooted in a place – to feel the weight of place over the lightness of possibility. And places are weighty. In between sorting through boxes, I spent a lot of time looking out of my old bedroom window at the garden – the window open to let in the constant bird song.
I realised that the thing I will miss most about the house, is the way it has always seemed wild and self-willed. The way we have never quite been able to keep nature at bay. There’s the tree that started sprouting from the chimney. The bees that nested in the roof for a while. The bird that once found it’s way down the chimney and into my bedroom. And the usual proliferation of spiders. The garden too, has always been wonderfully overgrown, with brambles and nettles constantly threatening to engulf the lawn. It is a garden that has always welcomed the wild – birds, squirrels, foxes, a peacock – and me.
I spent 12 years in that house. I might not have always been able to see it, but now I feel glad to have known that small corner of the world. To have known which floorboards creak, to have known the garden’s four trees, to have sat by my bedroom window and watched the seasons change, to have accumulated an attic full of memories. Sometimes the weight of things, places and people can be a very good thing indeed.