It would simply have been a passing thought had I not grabbed it by the tail. But I did.
And so here I sit, surrounded by beach towels on the floor of my closet. My intention was good—clean out a closet that escaped my Kondo-like spring purge a few months ago. But now the towels sit neglected as I rush to write this blog before my Muse flees. She is an impatient sort, after all.
I need you to know: these beach towels are lovely. Just the right amount of worn, in huge boyish stripes—big and soft and reminiscent of adventures.
They are from a previous era, one in which I drove a minivan, stayed home with my kids, cooked gourmet meals. One in which we were picnicking midday, at my son’s baseball and lacrosse games in the evening. Where trips to the library resulted in stacks of books carried by little hands. A time when I made hot chocolate in July because why not, and refereed arguments in the driveway about whether or not the basketball was really out of bounds.
These towels were always in the wash, as I recall. Used when the slip-and-slide became a mudslide, when swimming lessons began each hot June day, when visits to a friend’s lake house or cottage meant tubing—and of course, sand everywhere.
I always kept a few of these sturdy striped beauties in the back of the van. You never knew when you’d be driving a gaggle of boys to the water park. And somebody always forgot his towel.
At the moment, these sturdy soldiers are strewn on the floor underneath a glam black silk dress. And that little number is from another era completely. One in which I attended black-tie fetes with regularity, with no premonition I’d become a chauffeur for my own tiny humans before I could blink. That dress saw me through a decade when holding a glass of champagne in one hand and a canape in the other felt as natural as breathing. When I was master of the doe-eyed gaze, and no stranger to walking under the stars with my heels in my hand.
I could keep going, ‘round my closet clockwise, but you get the picture. In this tiny room, my former lives are lined up like planes waiting for an O’Hare takeoff. But perhaps that is not the right analogy. It presumes each takes off and at some point returns. That is not the case; I’ll never go back to being a mother of young children, or a 20-something on the party circuit.
No. I see my lives—through these mementos—like a Russian nesting doll. Each fitting into one another, complete in its own way. Each a small life within my big Life.
The name for these dolls is Matryoshka. The largest splits in half at her middle, opening to reveal another smaller doll within. And so on, usually in sets of seven. Traditionally, each Matryoshka was handmade. They say you could find no two alike. I find this fitting, as no two lives are alike.
The biggest doll represents a strong female matriarch. I guess that’s also fitting as it appears that is what I’ve become. The apple does not fall far from the tree.
If we go back to where I began this story, Ms. Kondo has inspired me to shed more of my things. To lighten up. But purging the mementos of an era is hard. If each life fits into another, as dolls into Matryoshka, then each must remain intact for the whole. It feels like I’m eliminating some of my “lives” as I cast off the accoutrements they contained. And then I remember, each life sits within my mind, my heart, my memories—I think my very cells. They cannot be eliminated. Not really.
It is said the timber used to make Russian dolls is kept in the open air for several years until it reaches the right condition for carving. Only an experienced master can determine when it’s ready. And when it is, each doll can undergo up to 15 turns by its creator before it becomes a Matryoshka.
I am sure our creator is no less choosy when forming us. So I’m paying homage to each life as I decide what should remain in my current one.
Getting rid of these beach towels, which belong to a life I no longer live, makes me a bit sad. They are a reminder of what was, symbols of a former happy life. But as I lighten my load, preparing for another life I feel is waiting to emerge, I have to remember that I am building a happy Life. The big one, the one that holds all others. And to do that I have to be willing to jettison what was for what is, while welcoming what will be.
I hope at the end of it all, each fits into the other as beautifully as they were crafted to do.