I write from the land of galloping regime change. You guessed it-from Alberta-where, every generation or two, we elect a new government. My theme, however, does not have to do with politics, but with personal spiritual transformation, which has been occurring alongside our Canadian springtime.
The story involves housecleaning, big time. Our entire basement is currently undergoing an almost total emptying so that we might begin again, but wisely. The project my partner, Marlene, and I are presently undertaking has been strenuous physically and psychologically, as many decades of accumulation are being mercilessly discarded.
Ours is a blended relationship, happily occurring in the second half of life. The downside was the material accumulation of two families, not one. Such culling has prompted in us no small amount of reflection at this senior stage of life, and I’d like to share some of our discoveries with you.
Essential/non-essential-the first lesson we learned. Our criteria for separating needed from not needed was this: “What have we lived without for the past decades and not even realized we still had?”
Things accumulate that can drag you down or push you out. Marlene’s weakness tended to be holding on to forgotten family items from eras past. Mine were books, papers and notes from countless classes and learning events. We realized that major symbolic and sentimental items were still important. Much, however, had to be disposed of.
Integration-both personal and relational. We are at a time of life when meaning trumps accumulation. Interestingly, neither of us would consider ourselves materialists. Still, there it all was. What to make of it? For many years, both of us were focused on family and/or careers. Generally speaking, we are satisfied with how we have lived our lives. Both good and bad experiences have contributed much to what we now cherish. We still ask, along with many other Canadians, “Will our economic resources last, so that we are not a burden to our loved ones in later years?” And we keep doing our responsible best. What we have learned from our lives to date, however, is more important than any material accrual.
Maturity and wisdom-we claim some of that, even though there are people who seem not to learn from experience. We no doubt tire family and friends with things we feel obligated to pass on. We are grateful when some tell us they really do appreciate what we share. Ultimately, our legacy is what others claim to have received from us; not what we think is important.
To distinguish the essential from the non-essential, to integrate life meaning as we continue to evolve, and to mature with wisdom are the challenges with which we are currently dealing. Even the mundane and boring act of spring cleaning has become, for us, a renewal of the soul. We hope that the time remaining for us will be even better because of the spring cleaning experience we have been through.
Wayne A. Holst continues to teach religion and culture at the University of Calgary and helps to co-ordinate adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church in Calgary.