Thursday, March 7, 2019

Sorting my papers at the beach

After my father died in 2014 my mother remained for a time living alone in the large house which she and my father had custom-built over 50 years earlier. Though we were able to get her to relocate to an apartment in a retirement residence, my mother never abandoned her adoration for her former home. Almost until the day of her death, she unhesitatingly proclaimed her remorse at having left the house - which she preposterously insisted she was perfectly capable of managing and maintaining. Like so many others, her house was to her central.

I often visited my mother when she was still in her house. As regularly I discovered her upstairs on the second floor in her study where she purported to be "sorting papers". It was a scene similar to that in Monty Python where a chap is seen approaching but never really advances, just seemingly repeating the same initial progress over and over again. I suspect she intended to review, categorize, remove and discard some or all of the collection of old photos, letters, birthday poems and paraphernalia accumulated over the years in the various drawers and book shelves. But whenever she began examining the items her focus was lost and the never altered anything. It was illustrative of her dénouement that she couldn't bear to let anything go.  Even for example when we were clearing the garage one day she insisted upon retaining several old pieces of plywood (part of the inheritance from my late father who had his own hoarding aptitude). I quickly learned two stratagems: 1) there was no point contradicting her; and, 2) just do what had to be done when she wasn't looking. Though it sounds devious on my part, her stamina was inalterable and utterly irrational so nothing in the nature of discussion or reason was of any purpose or consequence.

The frightful evolution of children and parents is what develops as the unanticipated resemblance of the two. It is for this reason today as I wallowed on the beach that I was reminded of my mother's seeming peculiarities - my own are shamefully similar!

As materialistic as I am I have never been hopelessly attached to the things I prize. In that respect I differ markedly from my mother. Perhaps oddly this characteristic of mine is exemplary of both my physical and cerebral preoccupations; that is, I as willingly "sort" not only my stuff but also my thoughts. I won't pretend that house-cleaning on either level is entirely effortless but I am at least driven by a desire to make the product less complicated and more digestible - which is what I suppose simplification is all about. The rub however is that - like my mother - I never seem to make much progress in the completion of the undertaking.  Over the past five months since our arrival on Longboat Key (an event which interestingly coincided almost to the day with my mother's death) I have dedicated myself to sorting my thoughts - cataloging 70 years of my life.

Becoming an orphan - while the apparent critical feature - was not so much the significance for me as the sensation of being enabled to conduct my own life without obligation to or consideration of my parents. To be clear, I never begrudged trying to please my parents (to whom I willing acknowledge I owe an enormous debt and credit); but being released of the ability to do anything further for them by way of gratitude or filial performance allowed me the unique privilege of assessing what for me alone was of importance.

This particular enterprise of mine is by definition a work-in-progress if for no other reason than its relative novelty. So far I have succeeded to categorize all salient periods of my life into ten segments, the last of which for example was my private law practice. There is no question that part of my objective is to withdraw from the past and eliminate any overhanging influence. It is notable that many of my personal relationships effectively evaporated with my retirement.  My relevance to those people was exhausted.  I say this as a recognizable matter of fact only, not as a reflection of any subterfuge or design by either party.

What is now unfolding is an unabashed curiosity which at times astounds me. Residing beyond the compass of study or work has gradually enabled me to identify appetites which were once considered either petty or purely indulgent - simple things like writing, photography, leisure reading and motoring. My interest in people as well has refined to include only those whose company I enjoy - not those to whom I may have felt a duty for one reason or another. Part of that process includes the adoption of what for lack of a better word is laissez-faire - that is, based upon individualism and self-interest (not what were formerly my driving ambitions). Laughably this may be nothing more than a undisguised excuse for curmudgeonly behaviour. I'm still sorting the papers.

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