It’s Time to Clean Out the Attic

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
—William Ernest Henley, “Invictis”

I occasionally correspond by e-mail with John Board, one of my Ball State College chums whom I haven’t seen for fifty years. Across the years of time and the miles of cyberspace, old friendships can live in the realm of ideas. John liked my comparing our minds to an attic and wrote that perhaps we should discard some of the stuff stored there.

What a good idea! My “attic” is brimful of memories — some shiny and golden, others battered and bruised. All of the Christmases and parties and vacations are stored there . . . and the people — oh so many people — still have existence there . . . and internal visions of great art and sounds of lovely music and the taste and aroma of delicious food and wine! Oh how fortunate and rich in experience I have been!

It’s all there, but so are all the sadness, frustration and unhappiness of a lifetime. I try not to open too often the trunk packed with the pangs of loss at the deaths of beloved family and friends. There are suitcases of hurt feelings and neediness that include sadness that those whom I wish would include me don’t want to include me.

Battered boxes contain regrets for my failings and for things that I might have done better. I wish that I’d been a better daughter, sister, mother, friend. There are crates of bad habits, fears and anger that I try to hide in a dark corner or at the bottom of the pile. For example, in an old shoebox resides a teacher who was mean to me. I suppose that a psychiatrist would call this dark and gloomy section of my mental attic my subconscious.

Each of us has an attic full of different memories and experiences. The problem is what to keep and what to discard. Of course, I shall save the golden memories of people and happy times. And love and approval! One needs those. Should I throw out the grief that I’ve experienced? No, because grief tenderizes the heart and reminds us that we are mortal.  However, one shouldn’t dwell on grief or burden others with it.

O.K. I’ve identified some keepers. But what about that stuff that I’ve hidden away? You know what I mean, don’t you? Each of us has saved a bunch of worthless trash. Some people enjoy their grudges and anger that they’ve stored up for years. They take them out, polish them up and relive them all over again — and they never forgive. One individual even told me, “I enjoy my grudges!” Sometimes grudges end only with death. It’s past time for me to throw out that little box with the mean teacher and dwell on the darling teachers who were kind.

Fortunately my devoutly Christian mother accepted all people so that I didn’t grow up being controlled by racial prejudice, religious bigotry and dislike of other people’s lifestyles or nationalities.  Children are not born bigoted; their parents teach them.

Bill says that we don’t have to accept our parents’ prejudices. Are we not homo sapiens — thinking man — the most intelligent being in nature? That poor cardinal who pecked obsessively at our window couldn’t help herself. She was enslaved by instinct. Humans don’t have to be birdbrains; we have the freedom of choice.

Here in the evening of my life, I must become the mistress of my fate and jettison the claptrap that’s been limiting my being. I must throw away my regrets about past failures and my corrosive anger about past slights because I cannot change them. I must nourish my two-way relationships and jettison those that are not. Cleaning out my “attic” will set my spirit free.