His Stuff


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”


Ebb and Flow

“As steady as the tides, life constantly uncovers the treasures hidden within us.” ~UNKNOWN

I’ve been away from this space for a bit. Ebb and flow is the stuff of life, eh? After Yoga Expression Spirit was released, life got… interesting. Mightily so and in a very good way.  Therefore, I gave myself permission to take a breath, to unplug and to allow words and ideas to percolate.  It was time.  It was important.  It was an act of self-care.

Other than the periodic rise and fall of an old inner voice that incessantly whispers ‘go now and do more,’ it has been really swell. The space and time away served me well but I’ve missed you. So here I am, back with a hug and hot cup of tea for us both.

Much has transpired and the ideas have been flowing. I look forward to resuming our conversation soon. Thank you for being patient.

Until next time,

~ E

Yoga Expression Spirit – Tools for Authentic Living by Elizabeth Cabalka is available on Amazon in print and for Kindle. 


A Two Way Street


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”

Four Ways to Cope in the In-Between Times

Four Ways to Cope in the In-Between Times

Life is always lived between then and soon, right here and now, in the beautiful not yet. – Carrie Newcomer

Not quiet winter. No longer autumn. Not yet.

This is my first November in Minnesota in twelve years. I am finding the changes so interesting. The changes of the light, the changes in my daily pace, the changes seen and unseen.  Yes, this is all novel today and I may not be quite as intrigued in January but for now I find this fascinating. There is a deep sense of not yet, of restlessness, of waiting, of becoming. This in-between feels awkward at times and I find myself impatient. The grass is still green yet the garden has been put to bed for the season. Not yet. A seasonal pause.

Do you feel it too?  Continue reading “Four Ways to Cope in the In-Between Times”

Three Lessons From a Morning Walk

“How can you take the same route day after day after day?” he asked. 

“I don’t,” I replied. “The view changes daily and so do I.”

My four legged companion and I have shared a morning walk nearly every day for over ten years. In foul and fair weather, out the door we go to greet the day. I convinced myself for several years that this for her benefit but I know that this ritual is my gift to myself in equal measure, setting my day in order and clearing the lingering cobwebs. Our morning walk is a daily thirty-minute moving meditation and an exercise in self care.

This morning I found my need for self care was greater than usual. The recap of the recent political display left me with swirling unkind thoughts and my shoulders slightly slumped as the dog and I set out. As I reached the end of the driveway and turned to face the lake, I was taken by the stunning view and golden morning light. Why, my word, I was absolutely swimming in beauty! I immediately realized it was my decision to see this beauty or not. I could certainly spend the next thirty minutes marching around town, bunched up in my crowded head with my swirling thoughts, noticing nothing but my angst. I could also set all of that aside for a few minutes and receive the gift of this new day. I looked at the dog and chose to embrace the day just as she did – noticing everything, nose in overdrive, and pausing periodically to investigate more closely.

As we began our route, my swirling thoughts knocked loudly on the door of my mind trying to encroach, but I kept my attention in my body and focused on my senses as I swung my arms and hummed a tune. I was resolved to remain present to the beautiful morning. As the sunlight illuminated red and orange autumn splendor, some of the heaviness fell away and I began to notice the gifts of the day.

Thirty minutes later, as  the dog and I completed our route, these three thoughts lingered as I hung up my coat:

Alive! The world around us is alive with activity. The birds bring forth their industriousness with song and chatter. The squirrels circle the tree and constantly scamper here and there, preparing for winter and periodically stopping to play. Nothing is done half-way or with resistance. What energy do I bring to my daily activities?

Pause and behold – Beauty is everywhere but do we really see it? When was the last time you stood still and simply beheld your surroundings? No need to photograph, capture and share, just gazing and breathing, receiving with gratitude.  Try it sometime. Be still, look closely, be patient and breathe. Let the value of the vista be as it is. No outside confirmation of its value is required.

Bloom Anyway – Several years ago, a friend gave me a bag of Dahlia bulbs which I plant each year then dig them up again in the fall. The crimson flowers this year are stunning and prolific especially in a small flower bed at the end of my driveway.  I admire the tenacity of these deep red symmetrical gems, blooming mightily despite the fact that nearly every dog that passes pauses to piddles on them. They bloom anyway. I needed this lesson, especially today.

Did I solve the world’s problems on my morning promenade? Of course not. But I got to experience beauty, I took care of my body, I was part of the bigger world and I carved a bit of joy into my mental landscape where only a few moments before joy felt illusive.  This was no small task and it somehow felt important. I reclaimed my inner landscape after nearly surrendering it to the lingering residue of political fatigue. This purposeful and determined gladness felt deliciously defiant and deeply empowering.

I am not naive to the enormous and troubling challenges ahead. But I have decided that each morning I shall put on my sneakers, step outside with the dog, and wander a bit to see what the day has to offer. That is my declaration of resolute gladness, a lesson I learned from the dog.


Change Your Mind: How Meditation Strengthens the Brain

Then again, … 

On the other hand, …

On second thought, …

Hang on a minute, …

I confess, I have changed my mind about various things throughout the years. Some minor changes and some pretty big. New information and new perspectives often shine a light on a situation and – voila – I see it differently and change my mind.

That is certainly not uncommon. But what if you could do more than simply change your point of view?  What if you could consciously change your brain, in fact strengthening it to make it work better? Continue reading “Change Your Mind: How Meditation Strengthens the Brain”

Out of Your Head and Into Your Life – 10 Tips for Living in the Moment

‘At what cost do you ignore this present moment? The cost is incalculable as you pay for your distractions with your very life.’

For many of us, today marks a change. Schedules change and the pace of our days quickens. The feeling in the air and the quality of daylight signal approaching autumn. The darkness arrives early and lingers a bit longer. In the midst of all this change, it is easy to lose yourself. In that spirit, I offer you ten suggestions for remaining present in your life. Continue reading “Out of Your Head and Into Your Life – 10 Tips for Living in the Moment”