When I first moved to New York City (in my twenties) I covered the wall next to my bunk bed with postcards of lost luminaries in the field of music: Buddy Holly, Billie Holiday, and Edith Piaf, among others. I was studying music at the time, and Piaf’s rags-to-riches story appealed to me. I had similar dreams and I wondered if I, too, would have such an impact. I loved her nickname: little sparrow. I loved the arch of her penciled eyebrows and her shock of red hair. I would stare into her face as I fell asleep that first year in the big apple, certain that I would follow in her tiny footsteps.
Fast forward thirty years. Although I pursued music — songwriting and singing — for nearly twenty years, eventually I realized that it was unlikely I’d make my career in that field. At 35, I walked away from my pursuit of music — and although it was a very tough decision — I have absolutely no regrets now about having done so. That is something I want to say about all areas of my life on that day when I reach the end of my time here.
Fifteen years ago the “music” door closed. As soon as it did, the door to writing and teaching opened.
What got me thinking about this was the death of a young woman recently here in Phoenix. I don’t know her or any of her family. I know little detail of what happened except that she was hiking in Grand Canyon when she fell three hundred feet to her death. A friend of a friend of mine attended her funeral, and reported that at the graveside they played, “Je ne regrette rien,” in her honor. She was 24. From the sound of things, she’d packed a lot of living into those twenty four years. I picture her, hair flying in the wind, arms raised above her head, chin up, a broad smile lighting her face. She seems to have galloped through life, voraciously and joyously, and then, as quickly as she appeared, moved on.
Get busy living, or get busy dying…
I ran across an unsent letter I wrote my ex-boyfriend two years ago after I moved into my rental house. In it, I bravely told him the truth about everything. I told him all the things I never said when we were together. I told him of lies of omission, of what I was ashamed of, of what haunted me after he left. Mind you, again, I have no regrets about how our relationship ended. I simply wanted to energetically free myself from the knowledge that I did not completely “come clean” with him while we were together. As I mopped up the remains of our life at that time, I wanted him to know everything about me that I had never had the guts to tell him. As I re-read my letter, I realized that he knew all of those things now, whether the letter had been mailed or not. Energetically, I sent that letter. And its message found him in upstate New York where he was brewing green tea and watching the loons swim on the lake near his father’s cabin. My words, like bread, fed those birds and answered his questions. I am sure.
My mom has been culling and streamlining and clearing stuff out of her life ever since she retired ten years ago. She got rid of some material things I wish she hadn’t gotten rid of, but I quickly understood that it was her choice and her journey. The older I get, the more I understand the need to let stuff go. To live our lives unfettered and whole. To quit hauling around old possessions, relationships, moldering books, scraps of paper. It’s strange that we spend the first half of our lives accumulating stuff — and then the last half giving that stuff away. The “stuff” that actually matters to me — my animals and my family, my relationships and my writing — are the things that I carry (to a large degree) inside of me. For the most part, the material things I have no longer own me. Things like personal photos, my Buddhist altar, the teddy bear and rag doll I carried under my arm for the first two years of my life, the small scuffed up leather shoes I took my first steps in, my collection of compact discs (yes, I still listen to those), my poetry books and books on writing, those things matter. However, in comparison to all the possessions I have, the number of things that I’d feel bereft without, is shrinking. I know now that I don’t want to be enslaved to material possessions. They don’t fill my emptiness. Real connections, relationships, and experiences matter more.
So, now I want to collect stories. I want to dive into experiences and see sacredness in the world. I want to experience a love like no other and feel certain that it is on its way. I want to hold hands with the right man. I want to swim in the currents of life no longer wondering if I am enough, if I have enough, if I’ve done enough. I have.
Standing here with this wild, free feeling of having left all my old, beat-up baggage on the curb, I am excited about whatever comes next.
© 2012 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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