My life is passing before my eyes. And yet I’m healthy and vibrant, full of energy, enthusiasm and lots of gratitude. So what’s going on?
My partner, Alan, and I have built a home here in Bali, something I never wanted to do. I’ve been content renting all this time, feeling like I was buying my freedom.
Alan, a practical man, saw the escalating rents made building a house more financially sound. It’s been a two-year journey, and now we’re almost ready to move in.
Soon a macaru, a traditional Balinese ceremony enlivening and purifying a house, will be done. There will be offerings to the Gods and food for the guests.
A priest will preside over the ceremony, ringing his sacred bell over smoking incense and flicking copious amounts of holy water across elaborate offerings. Women will chant and perform the complex ritual that has been done for eons. Once the Gods and spirits are celebrated, it’ll be safe for us to sleep there.
In the meantime, I’m sorting an accumulation of possessions worth 21 years. This is the longest I’ve ever lived in one house. It’s so satisfying to give or throw things away and free up a weightiness I didn’t even know was there.
My husband, Bob, passed away three years ago from Alzheimer’s Disease. Now I keep running into his things; things I’d forgotten about, stuffed into corners of closets and drawers – his prescription sunglasses, his temple costume for ceremonies, missing buttons from a shirt, a keychain he never used, a pendant he made from a fossil walrus tooth.
They all bring bits of our time together into temporary focus, like a slide show across a screen. At the same time, it feels like I’m traveling through a mist – uncapped and set free – when I come upon these items.
My excavations find old lives I’d forgotten about, so caught up in working and living in the present. These include two brimming portfolios containing watercolor and pastel paintings, poetry and drawings for an artist’s book I never finished.
These remnants of my life seem to quake me out of ‘right now,’ exposing feelings and sensations with which I’m no longer familiar. I sometimes wonder, “Who did this art work? Did I dream this life up?”
I go through the paintings that have miraculously survived without a trace of mold, insect nibbles or other tropical disturbances. As I turn them over, one by one, the inspiration for them reveals itself, jettisoning me back to that time.
Venetian Dreams with a gondola emerging from a framed tunnel, a pomegranate suspended in the air, sends me back to sketching Renaissance windows at a canal-side café. I was on my first respite trip after nine years of caring for Bob. The painting stirs a myriad of emotions.
I move on to another one and remember the woman who inspired a whole series of paintings I called Healing Maps. She’s no longer alive, but the pieces she inspired are – bringing her and our deep friendship back to me, too.
I study each piece as I come to it, until finally the feelings are too intense. I close the portfolio and vow to go through them in their new home. And then the thought arises, “What do I do with this artwork that piles up?”
I live to create. The end product only serves as a reminder of the creative energy that flows when I step out of the way, an energy I am addicted to. And yet, I can’t throw them away. They’re like ginger bread crumbs leading me home.
One of the Hindu Gods revered here in Bali is Shiva, the destroyer. Now that may sound a bit harsh, but Shiva is one of the forces of nature woven throughout our lives. In order to create, we must let go of one thing to transform it into something else.
Da Vinci destroyed the clean white of a canvas to give us his famous Mona Lisa. Shiva’s energy is present every day in our kitchens as we destroy vegetables, meat, herbs and spices to create dishes to sustain us.
In order to create, we must transform, and in this move, I feel that energy strongly. I’m letting go of one life, or – as I am finding in my excavations – several lives, to create a new one. Sometimes that transformation is uncomfortable, sometimes joyous and sometimes both at once.
And still I know, from 71 years of living, that once I’ve moved, this life will melt into the background of my past, and I’ll be fully present and ensconced in the new one.
You can read more about life in Bali and Alzheimer’s in my book Piece by Piece: Love in the Land of Alzheimer’s.
How has moving to a new house affected you? How do you feel when the memories of previous relationships reveal themselves? Please share your experiences below!