Image: Moving boxes with a background something like 6264319, 13622248, 10165969
Title: Moving Substance
Subtitle: Packed with significance
Byline: Debbie Shapiro
I was so embarrassed. My neighbor's husband came into the apartment to ask us something just as the moving men began taking out the first boxes. "Is this also going?" one of them asked.
I nodded my head and burst into tears.
"Could you give us your new telephone number?" the neighbor asked.
I stealthily wiped away my tears and tried to smile as I wrote our new number on a slip of paper and handed it to him.
The neighbor left and my husband sat down next to me on our old, fading sofa. "You okay?" he asked.
“Yeah,” I answered, struggling to control my emotions.
"Hopefully they'll move the sofa last, so we can sit here a bit more."
I tried to smile.
The living room was slowly emptying. Boxes, endless cardboard boxes, each one neatly labeled, each one containing a lifetime of memories, were piled — thrown, really, like old, worthless rags — onto the strong backs of the Arab porters, and carried out into the black emptiness of the moving truck. I felt as if the porters were dismantling me, removing me, piece by piece.
I had lived in this apartment for over two decades. I had spent countless afternoons at the local park, chatting with the other young mothers; we shared our dreams and hopes while learning from each other the practicalities of making those dreams into a reality. We forged the special bonds of friendship that are created through shared challenges. Those were years when I could not imagine myself walking without a stroller or sleeping through the night. Twenty years of growth, of family, of life, wrapped into a hundred boxes, neatly stacked and (hopefully safely) deposited into the moving van.
I had been looking forward to the move. I had outgrown the neighborhood. My work, my children and my grandchildren were keeping me busy, and I never, ever, spent my afternoons sitting with the young mothers at the park anymore — they were now my children’s age. My husband and I decided we wanted the convenience of a central location, where the married children could easily stop in for a visit, and where I could walk to work and walk to the Kotel, and walk almost anywhere I wanted to go. I had spent hours poring over the architect's plans, designing kitchen cabinets, ordering the closets, dreaming of making the empty walls into a warm, welcoming home.
So why was I so sad? Why did I feel so empty?
I looked around at the peeling paint, the cabinets that were falling apart from years of children crawling under the shelves and banging the doors shut (and bumping their heads in the process). The new apartment was so different, [the mind does NOT have eyes!] so full of light, with fresh white paint and shiny windows. The closet doors even shut properly, and the shutters actually work! But the old apartment fit me like a glove. I had put my soul into it, and it had become me. I was comfortable there, while the new apartment was still an unknown. I had been there countless times, I had counted the floor tiles and checked (and rechecked, and rechecked again) the measurements, but it was still not a part of me, part of my reality. I had never really lived there.
"It's kinda like this world," I said to my husband.
"Excuse me?" He had no idea what I was talking about.
"We leave this world, and we know that we're going to a better place. We’re tired, our bodies are far from perfect, but the separation is so hard. Moving on is just so difficult."
He smiled gently, and then, with a twinkle in his eyes, said, , "I think it's time for you to leave already. I'll call a cab. ”
"You're right. I told the guy from the kitchen cabinets that we'd be there by eleven, and it's already ." I grabbed a few plastic bags marked “miscellaneous” and ran downstairs to a waiting taxi.
I cried all the way to the new apartment. I was leaving my home. A major chapter of my life was ending, together with its unique opportunities for personal growth and change.
We’ve been living in our new place now for about a month now. It’s everything I was hoping it would be, and I’m starting to acclimate to the unique challenges and growth opportunities it offers. One of them is something I didn’t anticipate.
When we purchased our apartment, we didn’t notice that our living room window faces the local cemetery. I almost fainted when I first saw the white, ghostly tombstones illuminated by the pale moonlight. How spooky! How could I live in a place where I'd constantly be reminded of the ultimate end to all life?
But now that I am living there, I find the view, well, comforting. Whenever I find myself getting bogged down by the trivialities of life, I look outside and am starkly reminded that my time here is much too short to waste on silly, empty things. So what if I couldn't find my favorite brand of cream cheese at the grocery store this morning? My unique view keeps me focused on the real, important things, the things that have meaning and substance. (Although I admit that yesterday I had a bit of a problem remaining focused on what really counts. The contractor finally arrived to install our shower door and then informed us that we couldn't shower for three days.)
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says that thinking about the day of death brings one to joy, as it says in Mishlei, "And she laughs at the day of death." When I first heard that, my immediate reaction was, "Huh? How morbid." But now, that I am so starkly reminded, every day, of the day of death and actually find it comforting. Life is too short to waste on emptiness.
I outgrew my old apartment. The challenges and opportunities that were presented there are gone, and whatever I gained there I have taken with me to my new place of residence. With Hashem's help, may I be privileged to use my time here wisely, to remember where I am going, and rejoice in the real things in life.