Monday, September 8, 2014

I Feel Awful

As moving has drawn to a close, I am exhausted and muscle sore, but that's not really the awful that I'm thinking of.

Part of my move -- and perhaps it should be part of every move -- is the dismissal and disposal of stuff.  It's the stuff that you've gotten over the years and have clung to for tenuous and amorphous reasons: old paperback books, random desk items, toys from childhood.  Sure, some can be precious and full of meaning, but most are things you just cling to.

In my case, this is often books.  It has become my standing joke that I have to get past the feeling that I am a monk in the Dark Ages, clinging to the last copy of Aristotle while ignorant peasants outside demand the paper to use as kindling.  The fairly obscure, but still common, history books and science fiction books are being preserved elsewhere.  I am not the last bastion of knowledge and cultural memory.

However, this came home with a wrench as we finally got into the ancient garages where many of my books were stored.  It was a damp place, and a number of boxes were placed against an outside wall.  Put simply, the books were furry with mold.  This meant I couldn't just, with a bit of regret, send them off to Goodwill or the local library.  They had to go to the dumpster as garbage, lost forever to everyone.

That was tough, but it still wasn't the worst.

Further back in the garage were my father's books.  50 years of higher education, a personal library collected with care and interest.  Like my books, they are generally obscure and surely are in libraries elsewhere.  Indeed, after moving to Lexington, he made contact with both Stanford (where he got his MA and PhD) and the University of Virginia to see if they would be interested in his papers and library.  Both reacted impassively.  If an educational institution can shrug a collective "Meh," this is what they did.

So we carried his books and papers from house to house as we spiraled deeper into financial disaster, as we carried mine.  All his papers and speeches, articles and books.  There was a box of nothing but diplomas and certificates of appreciation, framed and mounted for display.  And of course, the books -- boxes and boxes and boxes of books -- the physical representation of a lifetime of work, all of it both meaningless and deeply meaningful to me.

They were meaningless in that, to be brutally frank, they held no interest.  Most all were obscure tomes on various aspects of college administration and history.  They were meaningful in that they were to him what my books are to me, a collective physical representation of the mind and soul.  Now, they were moist and rotting, destroyed by a damp garage, not even worthy of charity.

I died little deaths as each came out, the box blue with mold, constantly threatening to disintegrate.  I focused only on the hope that the rotting cardboard would hold together long enough to make it to the dumpster.  The frustrating image of twenty pounds of books spraying across the ground, forcing me to toss them one by one, at least gave me something more productive to focus on.

They're all gone now, along with many of my books, old papers, toys and furniture.  I tell myself it was good, the sort of purging self-help types stell us so often is necessary.

Yet the worry and regret remain.