A couple of weeks ago I gathered up my courage and plunged into the final stages of preparing my mother’s house for sale. I had been coasting for a while, taking some time to just sit (literally and figuratively!) with this profound change in my life. But I began to feel ready to move forward, to move ON, and so I did a last burst of cleaning and clearing at the house, got some tips from a realtor friend, and was on track to put the house on the market in early August.
During the last days of her life, my mother spoke frankly and matter-of-factly about her death and what my life would be like after she was gone. One of the things she talked about was her house and all the things in it. “I hate to leave you with that burden,” she said. “Just get rid of everything as easily as you can."
But then, in her typical gentle fashion, she suggested something that I knew would make her happy. “I think it would be nice,” she said, “if you just opened up the house and let people come in and take what they want."
So that’s essentially what I’ve done. Family, friends, neighbors - anyone who comes to visit has to take something with them when they go home. A vase, a picture, an end table or a couch. One friend took a collection of teacups, which she uses as containers for delightful little flower arrangements. Another took the wicker chairs from the patio for her own back porch. Several young people setting up housekeeping on their own will have everything from kitchen appliances to coffee tables.
As one friend remarked, “It’s as if little pieces of your mom are going everywhere.”
I love that idea. My mother had the most generous of hearts - she loved to do things for people, to offer them her time, her empathy, and a plate of homemade cookies to go with. I know she doesn’t live in the bits and bobs of glassware, the furniture and clothing that I’m giving away. What does live on through this process is her spirit and her generosity of heart.
I have connected with people in surprising and life-altering ways during all of this. And through a long series of round-about connections going back to my time as an accompanist, two days ago I met a delightful young man who just bought my mother’s house. As amazing as it is to have sold the house to the first person who looked at it, it is even more amazing that this is the second time that’s happened to me. Just three years ago, when Jim and I were selling our house, the exact same scenario occurred. Through a connection with a neighbor, before we ever listed the house, a young couple came and looked and bought, all in the space of one hour.
In the past couple of months, I’ve been joking about this. “I could never get that lucky again,” I would say to people. “That would be just impossible."
“I’m not really surprised,” said a friend when I told her about this amazing serendipity. “Look at all that good karma you’ve been putting out into the world, giving away all your mom’s things."
I tell people that I’m not a religious person, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. When I say that, I mean that organized religion - at least as I’ve experienced it - doesn’t always speak to me or for me, the way it does for many. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have deep faith in religious principles like kindness, generosity, tolerance, and forgiveness. It may sound simplistic, but I have always believed that most of the world’s problems could be solved if we collectively practiced what Christians call The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have done to you.” Others call it Karma: “What goes around comes around.” If you put goodness into the world, goodness will come back to you.
I try to live this principle. I’m not always (or even frequently) successful. The current state of the world and especially the current political climate has me feeling angry and upset a lot of the time. Just ask my husband - I’m prone to going off on angry rants, inciting for acts of violence against certain political figures whose names I won’t even utter. It’s anger born of fear - fear for our country, for the future, especially for my grandson and his generation who will live with the long-term ramifications of what happens over the next four years. What’s happening in my heart seems to be depicted on a large scale across the nation and the globe.
But today in my little corner of this troubled world, there is a sense of grace. It’s a word I use a lot in connection with my mother. She was graceful in her living, in how she cared for other people. She was easy-going, gentle, simple but elegant in the way she kept her home, her self, her life. As I’ve given away these tangible “little pieces of her,” perhaps I’ve managed to put some of that kind of karma in the world.
And some of it has come around to me.
“Every single action take in love, kindness, respect and joy matters,” writes Christine Mason Miller in her lovely piece for Modern Creative Life. A smile, a word of welcome, a gesture of kindness.
A teacup. A vase for flowers.
So perhaps this is all any of us can do: put little pieces of kindness, concern, hope, forgiveness, encouragement, and grace out into the troubled winds and waters of this world. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture.
Then wait for it to come back around.