Anyone who knew both Joe and me also knows that he was the neat and organized one who could always put his finger on anything he was looking for and I am the messy one who is always searching for something I put somewhere. So, to say that Joe would have been amused (and thrilled) with my Lenten undertaking this year would be an understatement. For the second time since he died, I decided to embark on the "40 bags in 40 days" idea and ride the wave of cleaning, organizing, and moving things out of my life.
When I completed this in 2014, it was intense. It involved finally eating the two chocolate bears that were in my refrigerator (one with my name and one with Joe's) from three Thanksgivings before and wrestling over and over again with WWJD (in this case, What Would Joe Do?)
Over the past 46 days (Sundays are "little Easters" in Lent for those who don't know), I have cleaned out a wide variety of spaces in every room of my home. For good measure, I even added in some spaces not in my home. I used this opportunity to clean out the car that was Joe's and is now mine and to start throwing away some non-essential items in my office. For the most part though, I was tackling my overrun junk drawers, packed until they burst cabinets, and closets that could have been hiding just about anything.
I shared with a friend early on in the journey that I always feel more connected to Joe when I do things like this because he was the one who would not hold on to things. So, anytime I hit a moment of hesitation, even around things that may *feel* sentimental, I channeled an inner conversation with him and found the resolve to either throw it away or give it away.
Obviously not every item got moved out. During one particular night of work I came across a ticket stub (remember when those were a thing?) to the last concert that Joe and I attended together. We saw Greg Dulli at the Trocadero in Philly. We sat in the balcony because with his colostomy bag and generally weakened state, he wasn't up for standing on the floor - our usual spot at shows. As I looked at that ticket stub and remembered that show it hit me that the Trocadero is now closed. Even before COVID-19, the Troc had closed. At least I have the ticket I thought as I tucked it away in the display on my wall that I have for such things.
Over the course of the last 46 days I have come across so much that reminded me of Joe. It is now almost ten years since he died and after a lot of grief work these remembrances are much more likely to bring smiles than tears for me. I still miss him in a million different ways, but I have learned that processes like this one help me to keep bringing him with me as I move forward in life.
It has been years since I remember having a dream about Joe. But during this process, as I was moving through the spaces of our home and channeling those "inner conversations" I had a dream about him. Even now I get teary thinking about how I felt that morning when I woke up. I don't remember the details of the dream, but the way it made me feel sits deep with me even weeks after it happened. As I found during the first time I spent my Lent cleaning and organizing, there is something profoundly spiritual about making space.
As I made my way through my 40 days I documented each day with a photo. It was pure joy today for me to be able to look back on all of those photos and think about the myriad areas in my life that now have more space. I admit that there have been times that I have opened my drawers just to remind myself that they are not loaded down with things or looked into my bathroom closet just to admire the way that everything has a place. I can feel Joe cheering me on (and also reminding me that there are still random piles of things on the bedroom floor). Perhaps I will get to those too.
I rounded out my 40 bags in 40 days with a Holy Week focused on moving and listening. Each morning no matter the weather I went for a walk (as I have every work day since January 19) and on Good Friday I did something extra special. At the suggestion of a dear friend, I listened to David Suchet read the Gospel of Mark. It took two hours and I listened and walked as the sun came up on Friday morning.
Throughout that walk there were moments when I stopped to process, to let my tears flow, and to take in all the beauty around me. I was overwhelmed by this story of Jesus that emphasized God's abundance, unconditional love, sacrifice, and even humor. It left me feeling thankful and hopeful, two things I needed at my core.
Tomorrow will be Easter. It will also be Joe's birthday. He would have turned 46. Thanksgiving and hopefulness are two states of being that I crave for myself tomorrow.
Since I found them on my Good Friday walk, it seems fitting that I close out this writing with the photos I took while I was listening to Mark.
May you encounter the spiritual in a way that leaves you with thanks and hope for the road ahead.
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