On the Gravitational Pull of Things

The plan is to travel. Our children are grown, and we’re coming up to our last day of working full time. To get out there, we’re renting out this house and unloading its contents, ready to step into the next season of our lives with lighter luggage. 

So, we must deal with things. 

I walk through the rooms of our suburban house and inventory the objects, organize them into stacks, plot their disbursement. Sometimes, in a burst, I’ll unload a great deal at once. Sometimes, objects persist. 

For example, this gargoyle. 

I love this gargoyle. I spotted him in a quirky little store in Cambridge, England, in 1995 when I was very young and very earnest. If I could curate the right objects, my reasoning went, maybe the result would be a well curated life. I was unhappy with my job then, trying to write short stories and essays on the side, full of ambitions. I brought home this intently focused homunculus, this hunk of molded concrete–probably meant to be a wry garden ornament–and ensconced him high on my bookshelf. I thought he looked amazing up there. I imbued him with all my good intentions. 

That was one problem with this object. 

Another problem was that time passed. His longevity gave him gravitas. We moved, and moved again and again, we had our son, then our daughter, we worked hard at first this job and then another, there were math notebooks and book reports strewn across the kitchen table, also birthday cakes and tax forms and Thanksgiving turkeys, and the gargoyle silently presided over it all. I lifted him out of the box after one of the moves to find one of his feet broken, which pained me more than I could explain. I glued together the concrete slivers and decided the cracks added to his gargoylian charm. He resumed his vigil. We stopped noticing him much. If you asked my children to name objects in their childhood home(s), I doubt the gargoyle would make the list. But if you showed them this photo, they would say, oh yes, he was always there. Almost invisible. 

Until he became visible. 

When the traveling plan unfolded, and it was time to interrogate each possession, he was suddenly very noticeable indeed. Heavy. Collecting dust. I carried him to the shelf in the basement designated for stuff to be listed online, on the neighborhood Buy Nothing group.

He said nothing.

I resisted the urge to explain it to him, to thank him for his years of service. 

More time passed. I found new owners for dishes, blankets, neckties, cake pans, extension cords, Legos, flashlights, picture frames, watercolor sets, baskets, shoes. But I kept reaching around the gargoyle. He appeared to be maintaining his vigilance in the basement, and I appeared to be letting him. 

Last week, I listed him in the Buy Nothing group. I told them about the store in Cambridge, the glued-together foot. He’s heavy, so move him with care, I said. Be gentle. Instantly, seven or more messages popped up from interested takers. I chose a woman who said she loved him, who had just the place for him. Quickly I took him from the basement shelf, put him in a bag with the woman’s name, and set him on my porch. She texted to say she’d have to come by in the morning–was that okay? Of course, I said, and made dinner, folded some clothes, all the while with half a mind pulled toward the package on the porch. For about the hundredth time I groped around for a reason to keep him after all. 

But no. I am keeping some sentimental items: my mother’s hand-painted cards, a few of my children’s drawings and lumpy little clay pots from when they were little, notes from my husband. Enough to acknowledge the best of the life already lived without weighing down the life to come. It’s time to release the gargoyle; more than that, I want to release him, to make space for our new life. To lighten up! Even so, it isn’t easy to escape the gravity of our things, especially if they’ve hung around for so long. 

The gargoyle was claimed the next morning, leaving a clean space on the porch, in the basement, on the bookshelf. Once out of my house, he returned to what he once was: an object. A thing to be inventoried and dusted. Now, someone else will dust him. Carefully, I hope. And in return, he will keep guard, year after year. 

Thanks for reading, and by the way, I love comments. Bookmark fieldtripnotebook.com for more on travel, minimalism, books, public transportation, and hikes. For daily postcards from, well, wherever we are, subscribe to launaatlarge.substack.com.

5 thoughts on “On the Gravitational Pull of Things”

  1. Release our inner gargoyles too! Love this and do well written. Very moving and I wish you well on your new travels!

  2. Congratulation! Can not imagine how you were so successful in reducing your household possessions! Great story of something that was special to you!

    1. It was a long process, Rebecca, and there were moments when I wasn’t 100% sure about it. But now that I’m on the other side of the process, I LOVE it. Very freeing. Thanks for reading!

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