56: The List

56: The List

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

The List

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.

~Author Unknown

Three weeks before my sixtieth birthday, my husband Greg announced that our marriage had “lost its spark.” Never mind that we’d invested thirty-five years in each other. Never mind that we shared three children. Never mind that we had four grandchildren under the age of two and another on the way.

He wanted out.

“You get half of everything,” Greg told me. “I just want a chance to try to find my soul mate before it’s too late.”

I declined his offer to let me stay in the spacious 1840s-era farmhouse we’d lovingly restored and in which we’d raised our family. Too much work. And too many emotional ghosts. I needed a fresh start. So, once the shock had subsided enough that I could pull myself out of bed in the mornings, I went house hunting and found a small contemporary home that felt just right.

Then I began the overwhelming task of deciding what to take with me and what to leave behind.

Some of the decisions were easy. I’d leave Greg’s ugly brown recliner and take my great-grandmother’s solid oak dining table. I’d take our wedding china and leave the dishes adorned with moose and elk and grizzly bears. He could have the pool table but I’d take the treadmill.

Heirlooms from separate sides of the family posed no problem. Greg would keep the antique writing desk that had belonged to his mother; I’d take the cast iron skillet that had belonged to mine. I took the Bible with my grandmother’s notes scribbled in the margin; he kept the Purple Heart his father had earned in World War II. Greg’s Little League baseball glove would stay; my tennis racket from junior high would come with me.

We were even able to agree on items like family photos (he kept half, I took half) and pets (I took the dog and he kept the cat).

Day by day and room by room, our possessions were split in two. It seemed almost too easy. Until that first night when I lay alone in a too-big bed in my new house. As I tossed and turned and eventually gave up hope that sleep would come, I began to understand that I had only decided which things to keep and which to let go. The really hard decisions hadn’t yet been made.

And so, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I clicked on the bedside table lamp and took a pen and a notebook from the drawer.

At the top of a blank page, I wrote WHAT TO LEAVE BEHIND. The list wasn’t long, but it was powerful. Anger. Resentment. Hurt. Desire for revenge. Fear, the most overwhelming emotion of all. Fear that I wasn’t brave enough or smart enough or tough enough to weather this gigantic storm.

Atop the next page, I wrote WHAT TO KEEP. Try as I might, I could come up with only one item to put on the list: Happy Memories. Memories of bringing our newborn babies home from the hospital. Of the smell of wood smoke and fresh-cut Christmas trees. Of throwing hay from the barn loft to the horses waiting eagerly below. Of bicycle rides and basketball games and BB-shooting contests. Of tire swings and trampolines. Of fishing in the pond and catching nothing but snapping turtles. Of snuggling in front of the TV with a huge bowl of popcorn to share. Of Easter dresses and prom dresses and wedding dresses. I filled page after page of that notebook with happy memories. By the time my fingers grew too stiff to grasp the pen, the sky outside my bedroom window was growing pink.

Thankfully, I was awake to witness the very first sunrise of my brand new life. A life that was sure to have its challenges and difficulties. But one which promised to be overflowing with joy.

~Jean Morris

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