Christian Piatt talks about saying goodbye, and why everyone should go through their whole house once a year.
I’m pretty sure if Dante’s Infernoportrays a for-real place, one of the circles has people packing and unpacking for all eternity.
There have been lots of roller-coaster moments in the last few days. Sunday, we said goodbye to the church we started in our living room eight years ago. The first week, we thought this whole church planting thing was easy. Some friends and family showed up, and the house felt full of life. There was an anticipation of what this new thing might become. Folks hung around afterward and chatted; we were pretty sure the whole thing couldn’t miss.
Then there was the week (not long afterward) when NO ONE showed up. Amy and I sat there in the living room, communion prepared, sermon written, songs ready, but no people.
“If you think you’re preaching to me,” I sighed, leaning the guitar against the wall, “you’re sadly mistaken.” We took communion, prayed it out and went to the pub for a beer.
Last Sunday, we looked around the sanctuary, every seat filled, smile mixed with tears, and each one bearing a story about how they got there and why they stayed. Stories of recovery from addiction, healing in its many unexpected, mysterious forms, lost hope resurrected by a community of faith who loved them through it. It was beautiful.
And then we said goodbye and left.
It seems like all we’ve been doing lately. To friends, family, and even those people who acted heartbroken that we’re moving on, even though we don’t exactly remember being friends with them. turns out some people feed on the drama of “goodbye” like it’s some strange narcotic. Reminds me of Helena Bonham Carter’s character in Fight Club who got off on other peoples’ misery in an endless chain of twelve-step groups she crashed.
For me, goodbyes pretty much just suck.
Amy’s taken all of this harder than I have. I worry about her dehydrating from all of the tears produced in the past two weeks. I keep expecting to wake up next to a raisin, formerly known as Reverend Amy Piatt, who has cried herself into a freeze-dried state.
She keeps asking me why I haven’t cried. I remind her that I’m a guy, and therefore have no feelings. That part was just scooped out of me during gestation. I do cry, on a schedule kind of on par with the Olympics: one every four years whether I need it or not.
I did cry once during all of this, when a girl at our church came up, tears filling her eyes, and hugged me like I was ballast in the middle of a violent storm. Truth be told, she’s been through her share of storms, and we’ve seen her though plenty of them. That did it for me. I cried into her long, dark hair, trying to imagine her ten years in the future, with the life we had imagined for her so many times.
And then I let her go.
All of this is not the worst part of moving. The worst part is going through every single thing we own, assessing its value and either packing or discarding it. I sent a message out yesterday on Twitter while sifting through the physical landmarks of my life that anyone who doesn’t think their life is cluttered with much stuff should make a practice of going through and physically touching everything they own at least once a year.
This problem of too much stuff is what I like to call a “White People Problem,” or WPP. Really, it’s a byproduct of privilege, but it’s more fun to call it what I call it. I even like to put it to music, doing my own karaoke version of the old Naughty By Nature song:
You down with WPP? Yeah, you know me…
The most interesting stuff was in the attic. That’s the stuff you usually stuff in a corner and forget about for years, often until you next move. It’s like doing a little archaeological dig through your own life, plowing down through the layers of papers and other artifacts to remember what you used to think was important enough to box up and move across the country.
I’ve done enough moves over the years that most of it actually was worth hanging on to. I’ve whittled my personal memory stuff down from a good dozen boxes to one file folder box. Some of that has been intentional and some was through attrition. It’s funny how I can give you a line-item list of the stuff I’ve lost in previous moves, while I’m hard pressed to tell you what’s in the boxes I do have left in storage.
What the hell is it about human nature that makes room for what we’ve lost, while neglecting what we have? Seems a tragic waste of emotions and gray matter to me.
I did find some interesting things in the stacks. There’s the old Instamatic camera I used to carry everywhere with me, snapping pictures of mundane things like grandaddy’s wood pile or the hubcaps on our custom van like I was Rain Man. I was/am a little, I guess, but at least I like to think I take a better picture now.
I found scores of notebooks with my early notes, poems, one-act plays, essays and short stories filling them from front to back. There was a time when I never went anywhere without one of these little notebooks, just in case the muse struck. It helped me realize that my obsessive tendency toward being prolific hasn’t just come on recently since I started blogging. I’ve pretty much been a freak for decades.
I hung on to the notebooks, not because the contents are particularly brilliant. In a way, I kept them because the stories are so obviously less than perfect. The “me” today would edit the crap out of the nineties “me,” but given that I kind of get now where that “me” was coming from, I’ll let the imperfections linger. The narcissist in me likes to think that someone some day will be interested in my old journals for posterity. You know, for when I publish that million-copy bestseller and Terri Gross is asking me about my life over a cup of strong coffee and a ten thousand dollar microphone.
But mostly I keep them because it’s so familiar. I see the same passion, the same yearning for connection and self-expression that I pour into my work now. I’d like to think I’ve gotten a little bit better at it over the years, but I like that guy who scribbled in all of those notebooks, and even took printed versions of my stories that no one else ever read and bound them at the office supply store, just to make it feel more like a “real book.” I’m still that same kid, even if a few more people are listening.
And then I found the tapes. No, not the Watergate tapes, but sort of like that. Back when I was working on a semi-autobiographical novel called Damien’s Tribe (we writers all have one of those sitting on a shelf somewhere) I sat down with each of my family members and interviewed them. I had one of those little micro-cassette recorders because every serious writer in any movie I’d seen had one. I’ve long since lost the recorder, but I still have the tapes.
One of them was marked “Dad Interview.” Long story short, I haven’t talked to my dad in about five years. He checked out one night while visiting us here in Colorado, packed up his stuff in the dark, and I haven’t seen him since. If you want the longer version, buy the book (how’s that for a shameless teaser?) but let’s just say it wasn’t the best “goodbye” I’ve ever done – or not done, as it were.
I sat there, flipping the tape back and forth in my hand, wondering what words and stories were trapped inside on the little thread of tape. I do remember him being kind of stiff and stilted when I interviewed him, kind of like it was for a job interview or a grand jury, but that was my dad: always guarded. Beyond that, I can’t remember much of anything about the talk. Did I get him to say anything unexpected? Was there any hint of emotion? Probably not.
If I tracked down a micro-cassette recorder , I could solve the mystery, I guess. But there’s a part of me that prefers to imagine what’s on them, rather than actually knowing. Reality probably isn’t that interesting, at least to anyone but me. But as long as I don’t listen, they can contain the most profound reflections between a father and son, deep philosophical revelations, scandal, humor and tragedy.
It could be the greatest story never told.
I might listen to them someday. Just not today.
Photo credit: Flickr / rberteig