sorting through decades

This past summer, as I waited for a teaching position to come through, I combed through my parent’s garage and helped them sort through the last 30+ years of living with children.

Their garage has always been clean and well organized. I don’t remember any large stretch of time when both of their cars didn’t fit inside. Even so, as new empty nesters, they came to realize that their lives had slowly been shifting. It wasn’t until we went through their things that we discovered how much.

Layer after layer of life revealed itself as we slowly went through each box, shelf, and trunk, pulling each item out and sorting through the memories. It became an unexpected exercise in remembering as children’s toys, high school year books, and old hobbies were spread on the floor.

I found myself with the beautiful and tenuous task of discovering the past years with them and reminding them that there is still a future. Some things are left behind when children arrive, and some are pushed to the side in the busyness of life. As you look back at them, it is so easy to grieve those shifts as lost opportunities.

Yet, while it is important to acknowledge the grief, we found that there is a wealth of joy to be found as well. The cluttered floor also displayed the fullness of the lives they had led together. Beach umbrellas we hadn’t used in two decades were reminders of the decades we had used them on sand beaches…back when we children were in diapers. College travel mementos transformed from broken promises of future travel into encouragement to travel again.

As we removed car load after car load, the garage distilled into a picture of my parents now. Suddenly, their hobbies come to the front. For years they have put their children’s hobbies first. They had done so so seamlessly, that I had never realized until this summer.

Now, my father’s woodworking tools can all be plugged in at the same time and used without being moved into place. There is no longer a need to shift roller blades or skateboards out of the way. My mother’s gardening supplies are neatly arranged at waist height making heavy bags easier to move and tools easier to find. The barbecue supplies are all on the same shelf and not spread out into literally three opposite corners of the garage.

Being allowed into that space and being patiently walked through the past decades with them is a gift that I cherish deeply. From discovering old passions I never knew they had to watching my dad turn into a four year old as he showed me his favorite childhood toy…these are things that I get to take with me and remember as I navigate my own adulthood and run into my own choices. My hope is that I will be able to look at my mementos in the future and be able to see the opportunities taken, not just the opportunities set aside.