Friday, December 23, 2011
Times like this reveal what matters most
Merry Christmas, everyone! This is my antepenultimate column for the Times Colonist. I had to search that word out just to have something fancy to say about my third-to-last opinion piece. I've been writing a column for the paper since 1996, so these are momentous times...
I’m on the brink of big changes in my life. Just how much that’s rocking my world sunk in this week when I realized that for the first time ever, I wasn’t going to put up a Christmas tree.
My partner and I are moving to Honduras on Jan. 15 to do volunteer work with the Canadian non-profit Cuso International.
I’m so distracted by all the preparation for the move that the Christmas process has barely registered on me. Yet it’s also going to be one of my most meaningful Christmases, what with so many people to say goodbye to after 22 years here.
There’s nothing quite like change to shake up your life. The Honduras placement is for a year, possibly two - not very long in the grand scheme of things. But in fact it changes everything in practical terms, a revelation all on its own.
My ties to the Island are lifelong because I have so much family here. But we don’t own a home in Victoria. So this change basically comes down to my partner and I collapsing the stuff of our lives into 50 kilos of luggage between us and a small storage locker.
A person really has to get serious about what items constitute “home” at times like this. We could be on the move in exotic lands for several years with any luck. What’s precious enough to keep when you know you’ll either have to carry it with you or pay to store it for a very long time?
Not much, as it turns out.
Photos. Memorabilia from years past, like my journals or the sweet and funny notes my partner and I wrote to each other in the early years. Useless but sentimental keepsakes, like the tiny Day of the Dead diorama of Trotsky’s murder we picked up in Mexico City.
I’ve been pawning off pretty much everything else on anyone who expresses a speck of interest. Our children in particular have been under pressure to take things we don’t want but are resistant to giving up, like the painted bull’s skull we dragged back from Arizona or the comfy but otherwise worthless brown chair from Ikea.
The kids eventually drew the line, and I turned to advertising things for free in the on-line classifieds. It has been way more fun than I would have anticipated.
Sure, I could have held a garage sale and possibly sold the 1970s cabinet stereo and the outdated computer desk for a few bucks. But I can tell you there’s way more pleasure to be had from handing your stuff to happy strangers who show up at your door delighted to be getting what they want for free.
I like knowing that my stuff is going to a good home. There’s something magical about giving people you don’t even know the very thing they’re looking for.
The young guy who took the Nintendo 64 game was thrilled that it fell into his hands on the very day his old one had broken. The kid who stuffed the cabinet stereo into his Jeep said he’d wanted one for ages. The family who took the computer desk actually wrote us a thank-you note.
I took in a boxful of forgotten knick-knacks to the women at PEERS Victoria and they were all over them. My partner’s excess art supplies are going to artists from the mental-health community, who are grateful for the abundance.
As for having less stuff - well, that’s just plain freeing. It has required much sorting and more than a few squabbles, but we’ll be a lean, mean and mobile unit by the end of it.
Why are we doing this? Why not?
Our lives have brought us to a point where it’s possible. Our needs are met. We have skills that Cuso International can make use of in developing countries like Honduras. Our kids and grandkids are cheering us on. Life is short.
I’ve still got a couple TC columns left before I’m gone, but after that you’ll have to catch up with me on my blog or Facebook. We’re throwing a farewell and fundraiser on Jan. 11 with proceeds to PEERS and Cuso - come on by that evening if you can, to the Garry Oak room at Fairfield Community Centre.
And if I can interest you in some mismatched dishware or an old love seat, let me know.