Emptying the Backpack

I carry a backpack of unfinished projects that has become so heavy that it I can barely move or think. When I say “project,” that’s a shortcut for unread books, stories unpublished, repairs for which I have supplies, twenty pounds of Google fat, skills halfway learned, travels planned, desires, envies, dreams, and ideas of who I want to be, which is so often someone else, somewhere different.

In the last month, two people that I love and greatly admire for who they are and what they accomplished in their lives have passed away. I am watching my father, who once was a entrepreneur of great influence and notable power, an international sharpshooter, an expert in horsemanship, a loved and respected member of a huge social circle. He has defended his country, traveled to exotic places, and every Good Friday he forced us on a grueling hike that ended with a delicious meal and huge blisters. Now he watches TV.

They say that what we cling to dies with us. Only what we give away stays when we go. That by letting go of everything, attachment loosens, and with nothing to bind us, the transition is barely noticeable. Just a breath away. So they say.

Every few years, my family’s pile of no-longer-wanted-or-needed items in the laundry room grows big enough to obstruct the passage. This year, instead of holding a yard sale, I built a table, like so:

What would people take? What would they leave? What if I added at least one new item every day? For 100 days?

I discovered strange attachments to items, such as the two scary, ugly clown dolls that I’ve had in a trunk since I was little, unable to give them away. They were a gift from my godfather, with whom I could never quite connect, and they’ve accompanied me across oceans and decades.

After a week, I realized that this is not an exercise in having less stuff, it’s about emptying that backpack. It’s a hard thing to do, and I am starting with the easy stuff. I don’t want this to be about regret. If I am not ready to let go of something, I put it back for now, like the clowns.

On the table are the objects around me. But what about the apps on my phone? Decades-old efforts to lose weight? Fear of flying? Promises to visit someday? Relationship scripts? Worries as an anchor into reality? And all that I believe in? Will starting with the tangible teach me to let go of the invisible ball and chains? And, once all that is gone, will there be anything left of myself? Will my last breath be light as a feather?

I don’t know. I do know that, having reached the halfway point, I tremendously enjoy putting items on that table. And with every item that finds a new home, I feel a little lighter.