There's nothing like being away to restore one's body and soul. We were away just last week in somewhat familiar parts of Maine and New Hampshire, itself a brand new experience. The clean air, lack of humidity, brisk breezes, forest-covered mountains, rocky shores and charming small towns, some predating the Revolutionary War, were balm and sustenance. Good friends, good food and good wine provided endless moments to be cherished.
But all good things come to an end, and we arrived home late one night, popping open the front door with its predictable creak and arousing a sleepy dog and his two feline siblings. The familiar smells of home embraced us, and we found things all in order. "Disorder" would follow for the rest of the week as we made our way through newspapers, bills and a raft of emails and messages left on the answering machine. It would take a day or more to do laundry and re-stock foodstuffs. The joys of unscheduled days gave way to a datebook filled with meetings, deadlines and appointments.
We were definitely home, and that's not a bad thing despite the re-orientation it requires. It takes going away and being away to make us all the more grateful for the home we come back to. Many of our "things" have been with us for years. We have history with them: comfortable couches that invite you not to move once settled on them; colorful and cushy rugs on hardwood; artwork, most carefully chosen, some bought impulsively; a hand-carved bedroom suite dating to my maternal great-grandparents' marriage in 1884; a couple of upholstered chairs I've owned for 40 years; and antiques my husband acquired longer ago than that. Just "things," it is true, but they're what accessorize our life not unlike what good jewelry does for the Little Black Dress every woman is supposed to own.
Lee Woodruff is the wife of TV journalist Bob Woodruff who was almost killed in 2006 covering the war in Iraq when a roadside bomb blew up. After five weeks in a coma and a year in recovery, he went back to work at ABC News in 2007, but he had a different take on life, as one could imagine. In the October issue of Real Simple magazine, Lee writes about his life-altering decision to re-invent their lives in a specially designed and smaller home built to use solar and geothermal energy, a dream he had cherished for their retirement. His near-death convinced him life is short and unpredictable. Why wait?
It would require dumping 20 years' worth of accumulated household goods, art and accessories and settling for only the most basic pieces. Lee thought it would be a freeing experience to reduce their clutter and collections in order to live a simpler life with only the basics at hand, and she embraced the challenge. She writes, however, that as the last yard sale wound down, she began to think otherwise. "I deeply missed my stuff," she said. It has continued to be a difficult transition for her, she writes.
She still recalls the joy of acquiring their "stuff": an antique armoire brought home from London; other furniture and accessories handed down in the family; their daughters' first "big-girl" beds that might have become family heirlooms; a bookshelf she hand-painted; the pottery hutch used instead for baby clothes. Now, she says, she has a deeper appreciation for how all the elements and accessories so carefully chosen or gratefully received had created their living space and filled out her family's life. She suggests that next time - if there is a next time - she won't be so quick to rid her life of items that hold precious memories. Yes, things are just things and cannot supplant the people held dear in life, but there's something to be said for cherishing the memories and joys that attach themselves to items we've gathered to decorate our lives, the author believes.
There's a mind game I've played often, perhaps a dangerous one because I think it's best not to imagine potential misfortune. Nevertheless, I sometimes wonder if our house were on fire, what would I gather up to save before racing out the door? The animals, for sure, but they would likely beat me to the door. So would my husband, but I'd be the last to leave. Photos and financial records would be essential, of course. But after that, what's the one - material - thing I hold most precious and wouldn't want to lose? There's no good "intellectual" answer; the decision, for me, would have to be instinctive in the moment. I'm hoping never to have to make a choice.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.