Packed up, but still
“Now the long freight of autumn goes smoking out of the land.
My possibles are all packed up, but still I do not leave…” —Thomas McGrath
Many years ago, when the movie Dances with Wolves came out, there was a sort of fad of people thinking up American Indian names for themselves that were descriptions of their own personality, appearance or character. I remember thinking that the name I would choose for myself was “one who stays.” There were many reasons for this choice at the time, few of which are relevant now, but I could hardly have known how prophetic my pretend name was.
Sometimes I think growing older is primarily an exercise in being left behind. Grandparents, parents, siblings and spouses are lost to death. Children and grandchildren grow up and grow away, too busy with their own lives to stay in regular touch. Friends leave, too, sometimes by choice, and this can be one of the cruelest losses because there is no forced parting to explain the departure. It feels like an unnecessary added pain.
Still, I think there can be a kind of nobility in remaining, sorting through the pieces others have left behind and sweeping their dust and clearing their rooms. Someone has to do it, and better a friend or loved one, however forlorn, than an absolute stranger.
We spend painful hours culling, letting go of trinkets and mementos that represent one expired dream after another, photographs of smiling faces, and letters and cards full of earnest emotion long since vanished. What we choose to keep we pack up, along with most of what we once thought possible in our lives. We gaze out the window at the leaves beginning to fall, grateful for the cooling sympathy of autumnal decay. And we stay.