I’ve lived long enough to accept that change is assured. Not the kind of change that comes about from restlessness – as it does when we are younger, when we choose change with abandon and ardor – but midlife change that can come with less renewal, and more fallout. Losing the sustaining comfort of familiar to the uneasiness of foreign can now hit with a punch-in-the-gut force that can sideline the most resilient among us. It could be the death of someone you love. Or divorce. Independence and self-reliance can be snuffed out because of illness, or reduced physical capacity. Unwelcome adjustments may have to be made because careers are dwindling and the financial safety net has been pocked.
Midlife is a letting-go part of life. There’s much saying goodbye to familiar.
A month ago yesterday, I moved from my beloved family house to my own apartment. A lot of my familiar has been plucked and tossed since that move. For the first time in 30 years, I’m living in space that is less mine. (I have to share stairways, elevators, walls, floors, a laundry room, the front door … toilet flushes.) In the beginning, time would sometimes stand so still at random moments – I could be driving, walking my dog, sleeping – that I would be jolted into an uneasy awareness at the reality of all that was, and all that is no longer – the familiar was conspicuously absent.
But I am also a lover of change. I will throw myself into the deep end, and find my way up – smiling. So, while my recent move (and accompanying fallout) has been unnerving at times, I’ve been adjusting spectacularly to the new everything …
… except the kitchen. Yes – you can mess with my familiar. Take my marriage! Bye! to my beautiful (big sniff) babies. Who needs a back yard? I no longer need shovels. And privacy is for the dead.
But don’t take my big old kitchen. My old kitchen owned my aura. It was my nimbus – hanging over me with “home.” It’s where my children would rush to after school. It’s where their scraped knees were bandaged, and stomaches nourished. They would do their homework in the kitchen, and recently, as young men, would gather with their friends over a beer. There was a corner the size of a closet for the shoes of a family of four. It’s where the party began, and usually stayed. It could be set aglow with a dozen candelabras on the counters. Holidays, birthdays, summer nights, winter storms – all kitchen-bound.
My new kitchen is the size of my old broom closet. And I’m OK with stacking and piling. I don’t care that my fancy, etched glasses are in the second bedroom armoire. Love my wine rack in the hallway! And so what that my cool, crystal, just-for-party-plates are in my car?
It seems, though, that it’s the little things that have been looming big in loss. I can’t blast music and do my joyful cooking-twirl with my wine in hand without crashing into a wall. There’s room for one stool, and it only fits in the corner, with room for only one elbow on the counter. I can’t gather more than three (I have squooshed five) people in it at once. (We can’t sit down.) I’m the bandaged one these days, because if I leave the cabinets open, I’m pierced in either the head or ankle. To cook and eat and drink requires a lot of turns sideways.
But a month in, I’m beginning to feel huge of heart in my small kitchen with a (newly) big aura. Yes, I can only hang there in bursts of time, instead of hours. And yes, it’s the old oven that burns these days, not candelabras. I’ve left the small square space right outside its doorway furniture-free for my wine-infused cooking-twirls (OK, more like twists). Adjustments, all. But little gems, each, that remind me that letting go means more space for letting in. That living large is about hugging change like your bursting-with-zeal-20-year-old self. My new kitchen may be narrow of space, counter-challenged, and twirl-free. But it’s found its aura. And it’s become familiar.