“For fun, I should drop dead in my closet.” During a weekend seminar at the Omega Institute in upstate New York, we had all been assigned the task of writing a poem about where we would choose to die. I was sitting in a spare, nearly monastic boarding room, with three hours to prepare my piece and return to the group. White walls, white sheet and blanket, one white chest of drawers, and a white lamp. Oh, and one gorgeous forest framed by a white clapboard window. No place could have been more peaceful, and yet I might as well have never left Austin, because my mind kept rummaging around all of the spaces in, and the stuff stuffed into, my own home. “I’ll overdress for the occasion of my death, piling on plumage and fake jewels and a mysterious and belligerent smile. I’ll throw all my shoes into the River Styx and let them kick up a craziness, cacophonous duck feet churning up voices of the everywheres I’ve ever been before, floating and sparkling and dropping away like everything ultimately does anyway.”
When the group reconvened and each writer presented their work, I smiled to hear how many had also situated their demise somewhere in or near their homes. At dining tables, in front of ovens, at dusk in backyards, we were all wishing to let go in the places where we had the most to hold on to. One woman chose the family’s patio at Sunday brunch so that her passing “could liven up the conversation.” Another would lie down on the pine floor where she had found her husband when he was gone.
She was the bravest. Most of us were hiding behind humor to deflect the innate discomfort of considering our own extinguishment methodically. We weren’t even allowed to choose when we would die, only where. Intimate and interior spaces were prevailing.
Refuge. Nest. Crib. We say quite a bit when we describe our personal architecture, and I heard in the poetic efforts of friendly strangers how very much we really do put into the accretion and jumble and color and aspiration that are our own homes. “I’ll leave a trail of ephemeral ball gowns and intimacies and laughing eyes in every room, a ribbon of IloveyousIloveyousIloveyous twining along the top for my children to tie up loose ends with, bind whatever wounds with, lash out with if that’s what they need.”
If we are lucky, we each have a little nook or cranny either in our present life or in our life story where we feel or have felt completely safe, at ease, at home. A bay window filled with handworn books and handmade pillows. A tree house filled with flashlights and ghost stories and a prized molted snakeskin. A well-filled pantry from which emerges love in the form of lace cookies and lasagnes.
And, in my case, my overfilled closet. It’s not the stuff, I swear. It’s the quiet end of a busy house where I make a little me each morning and then get on with it. It’s the two attenuated windows drizzling each morning’s light around me. More than any or all of the things in there, it’s the pictures and drawings and words of the people I love and therefore love to get dressed up for, get out for and be with.
Being in that empty white room didn’t feel empty, though. A periodic journey away from our usual places and our usual selves can really clear out the extra stuff in our heads and make clear what few things really do fill us. Then, when we are blessed to begin understanding that what fills us stays with us wherever we go, we start to see that the nooks and crannies of any place offer their comforts just as easily.
Hafiz, who needless to say is a much better poet than I, explained it best. “The place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you. Wherever your eyes and arms and heart can move against the earth and sky, the beloved has bowed there knowing you were coming.” Even with a deadline pounding in my head and a half-baked poem lounging in my lap, I felt that circle around my pristine cabin. I changed course in my last line. “I’ll save from the watery fire four smiling shoes for two shining girls. I’ll run back, set them at the threshold of a home of moments and whisper into each step still to be taken fierce encouragement and gentle feathers enough for them to know that they will fly and stomp and choose their everywheres well, and in ball gowns if they please.”