His Stuff

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You Can’t Take It With You…

Most of us are familiar with the saying, “You can’t take it with you…” I heard it before Charles died but I lived it after he was gone, and repeated it often as I was faced with the task of disposing of his belongings. It is true. You can’t take it with you. My late husband, Charles, certainly didn’t. Even so, his belongings taught me lessons despite his absence.

It felt vitally important that I take great care when allocating his belongings to family and friends. I was aware of situations where someone felt deeply hurt when they did not receive a prized item after a loved one’s death. Charles made no provision for his belongings so the task of deciding and dispensing of his worldly goods was left to me.

After Charles’s death on Thanksgiving Day 2001, I looked ahead one month for an opportunity to give his family special items as we all celebrated our first Christmas without him. I created large care packages for his father and step-mother, sister, brother, and son. These each included one of his work shirts, a copy of the beautifully written children’s book that was read at his funeral, a CD of music played at his service, and a funeral bulletin. These were mailed in time to be received before Christmas. As the months passed, I created additional care packages for his family, releasing Charles a bit more with each package.

For a long time, however, Charles’ clothing hung untouched in the right side of the closet. I rarely opened that side, instead opening only the left side of the brown faux-wood bi-fold doors to access my clothing, shoes and sweaters. Everything remained where he left it until one cold fall day nearly one year after his death.

While visiting some friends, I overhead them discuss their plans to attend a special gathering that weekend. My friend’s husband is Lithuanian and he gathered monthly with a group of Lithuanian immigrants for a meal, discussion in their native language and a Lithuanian-style worship service. Many were struggling to adapt to their new country, finding employment opportunities scarce, housing expensive and the weather sometimes harsh. Every time they gathered, those who could brought clothing and personal care items for those in need, especially those who just arrived who were struggling with the reality of American life. I watched my friends fold and bag pants and sweaters as they explained the difficult circumstances that some of their peers faced.

As they described a young man who had only a thread bare suit to use for job interviews, I clearly saw five beautifully tailored suits and nearly one dozen pairs of pants of varying sizes hanging still and untouched in the right side of the bedroom closet. My friends recounted the story of one young man’s futile attempts to repeatedly patch the soles of his boots and how he was concerned about the onset of winter weather. As I listened, I saw Charles’ nearly new boots lined up and gathering dust in precise rows on the green shag carpet at the bottom of the closet. These images marched across my thinking. It felt as though Charles’ wardrobe was impatiently awaiting an opportunity to serve their purpose, like well trained troops lined up and awaiting deployment. A question I had so carefully tucked away since his death now stood front-and-center in my mind, answered.

I recalled numerous times when Charles arrived home from work without his jacket or sweat shirt because he gave it to someone who was shivering and cold. I remembered the night he filled a bag with canned goods from our full pantry in the kitchen and drove into the city to deliver it to someone he just met who was hungry. I remembered how he insisted on giving to World Vision his $8 per month, even when he was unemployed. Charles was most contented when in the service of his fellow humans. He would have deeply despaired that his clothing was hanging unused and forgotten when someone else could put it to use. Despite months of quiet wondering, I knew immediately what I needed to do. More importantly, I clearly knew what he would have wanted me to do.

Without hesitation, I went home to find boxes, bags and cartons to transport his clothing to the waiting Lithuanians. As I opened the right side of the bedroom closet door, his scent greeted me in answer to my slight hesitation and lingering questions. A scent that was distinctly his gently filled my nostrils and greatly soothed the tug in my heart.

I stepped into the closet, placing my hands on the right and left of his hanging possessions. I gently gathered them together before me and buried my face in the fabric. I inhaled deeply many times, consciously filling some place inside with this scent so I would never forget it. Then I set to work sorting and folding, making a point to touch each item, to bless it on its way and release it to another place and purpose.

There were some items that that I was unwilling to part with and seemed to stick to my hands. A pair of silk boxer shorts. A t-shirt he loved and used as a night-shirt because it was so soft. The pajamas he wore during the final months of his life. A purple shirt he claimed was his favorite and I thought that looked particularly good on his tall, broad shouldered frame. One of his work shirts with his name tag still affixed to the right front pocket.

If you would have told me these would be the items that I would cling to, I would have been surprised. Some things I would have thought would be difficult to release, easily found their way into bags with nary a backward glance. An ancient navy hooded sweatshirt, the words KANSAS STATE CREW, surprised me in its resistance to leave. I never saw Charles wear it but recall fond stories of his days on the rowing team, to which this Minnesota-lake girl would tease him about rowing in Kansas — asking about the size of the wheels on the bottom of the boat. How fitting that I am wearing that sweatshirt in the pre-dawn hours as I write these words.

Before long, my vehicle was filled with clothing, jackets and footwear and I was driving down the driveway. The sense I felt from the bags behind me was akin to the excitement of a child awaiting the arrival of the school bus on the first day of school or the excitement in the station wagon setting out on the annual family summer vacation.

The following week, my friends regaled me with stories of many joyful Lithuanians, now dashingly clad in Charles’ clothes. These items, created for a purpose, were no longer imprisoned in the dark of the closet. Instead they were serving deeply grateful people and serving a purpose. There is no question in my mind that there was much rejoicing in heaven that day. I remember feeling grateful for the certainty that filled me as I executed a task which I previously perceived as monumental, even impossible.

So often in my grief, the answers to the seemingly unknowable questions showed up unbidden, effortless and whole. All that was required was my patience, letting go of my need to know before it was revealed. I know from personal experience that the saying, ‘you can’t take it with you,’ is true. Charles found a way to instruct and nurture my awareness of this reality through what he left behind.

Continue reading “His Stuff”

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A Two Way Street

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I’ve been rolling around in gratitude quite a bit recently. Certainly Thanksgiving helped pump up the volume on the outward expressions of gratitude even though I try to live with gratitude as a close companion throughout the year. Spending time gathered with family last weekend for the purpose of giving thanks was a lovely break from rancor, discord and loud clanging voices. I witnessed unexpected simple and profound healing kindnesses born of gratitude and the warmth buoyed me from gathering to gathering, still lingering with me now.

As a result, I’ve decided Continue reading “A Two Way Street”

Patience, Persistence and the Power of Time

“The only person who really likes change is a wet baby. “- Mark Twain

I recently visited Minnehaha Falls and learned that the location of the falls has moved over the past one hundred years. Moved. A waterfall. And not just a little. There was a time when the falls moved nearly four feet per year. I find this most interesting and also surprising but obvious. Continue reading “Patience, Persistence and the Power of Time”

Available on Amazon November 22, 2016

Yoga Expression Spirit – Tools for Authentic Living by Elizabeth Cabalka.

“Elizabeth Cabalka has created a process so needed in these distracted and fractured times. These words offer wholeness and healing and a sense of a companion for the ups and downs of life’s journey.”

– Sally Howell Johnson, author of The Practicing Life: Simple Acts, Sacred Living, and Barefoot Zone: Walking the Sacred Path

Available in Print and Kindle.

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Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

I need a breath of fresh air.

You take my breath away.

It is breathtaking.

I am out of breath.

I need to take a breather.

Give me room to breathe.

He was breathing down my neck.

Don’t breathe a word.

Our breath is the most natural process in the body. Just look to our everyday language for our awareness of the importance of the breath.  From the moment we let ‘er rip in that first bawling breath to the moment of our last exhale, we are being breathed every moment of our existence. I say ‘being breathed’ because, for most of us, this simply happens and thank goodness we don’t have to think about the breath! Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Continue reading “Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.”

Mystery

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”

– Albert Einstein, The World As I See It

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There is so little room for mystery in our busy, fast paced, technologically-saturated world. With mobile devices affixed to our bodies and google at-the-ready, there is nothing we cannot know.

I think that may not necessarily be a good thing. Continue reading “Mystery”

Home

Home

“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”  – Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz

After 47,250 miles, I have made my way home.

For many years now, my husband and I have divided our time between Minnesota and Arizona. We have made two beautiful, full lives. Our two lives are so distinct, each textured, full and rich but very different from each other. We have marked the passage of time not by the calendar but by events here and by events there, as well as our seasonal commute.

It all began with a five state book tour in 2003 after Wednesdays at the Fluff ‘n’ Fold was first published. Since then, we have traversed the country twenty-seven times, a Powell and Hyde spinning cable car of sorts, albeit more fluid in the route but just as ‘A to B and back’ with equally purposeful pirouettes on each end. Continue reading “Home”