Roles — and how we use them, misuse them, abuse them, take them up, take them on, and lay them aside (or don’t) — have been on my mind and heart recently. My husband and I have moved on from the clothing part of ‘tidying up’ to sorting books. We are not yet finished with this piece of the program because I think we have a lot more books than most of the people Marie Kondo works with normally. And our books fulfill several very different purposes in our lives. One of those purposes is to enable both of us to carry out our professional roles.
So, in addition to the normal assortment of books found in most reading households, we each have a theological library. In addition I have a highly specific library for my professional writing work and a library for my fiber art. Therefore, I did not anticipate that in one hour flat, I would have packed up two of those (professional) roles into boxes to go to younger colleagues who are still serving with congregations, and into paper bags for recycling.
What surprised me even more is how little anguish or regret there was in the process. That would be: none at all. I was all ready to convince myself that I really needed to let these books and papers go to someone who needs them more. No convincing was necessary. I just packed without pause except to close one full box and make up the next empty one. And then I went out for a twilight walk feeling 20 lbs lighter – or whatever the emotional and psychological equivalent of that is.
What I realize is that I collect roles like some people collect stamps or coins or Precious Moments figurines. Even when my vocation has changed, I don’t give up the old role(s) all the way. I just stash it/them in a drawer (or bookcase) with all its/their accouterments and add on the next role (and the clothing, study materials, and tools that go with that one.) At the same time, I keep dusting and reorganizing all the old stuff because who knows whether I might go back to it someday.
If I need to choreograph A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum or You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown again, I still have all the notes from the last time. Ditto for teaching a Bible course to privileged private school students. Or running an Appreciative Inquiry Summit. Or leading a six-session retreat on Spiritual Autobiography for retirees. I also have everything I need to commission an organ (except any kind of musical ability at all), administer the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, teach movement to acting students, lead a tour of Mont St Michel, or write another icon.
Or I did a week ago.
But something has shifted fundamentally. I think it has been shifting for a long time until, finally, a critical mass of events brought me to this moment when (at last) I can release the past to the past without fear or self-judgment or regret. All I am feeling as I write is gratitude for the rich tapestry that is my life, for all the wildly disconnected passions and experiences that called me and inspired me and held me for a moment or a year or a decade (or five) and then, like a good dance partner, turned me to face down the set to be caught by the next partner in line.
I wonder if you are now or have ever been in a place like I was a week ago. Maybe you have been more assiduous than I was about letting go of the old when you were ready to take up the new. In which case, congratulations! But if you suspect that there are some old roles still lurking in the shadows, this might be a good season in which to say farewell to them.
As we are gathering the harvest to see us through the dormant times of Samhain, it can be helpful to have some clear space in which to put it. I have four completely empty bookshelves in two different bookcases. Glorious clean, fresh, empty space waiting for…for…what? Something I can’t even imagine right now. That space looks lovely and open and full of possibility rather than full of a collection of old experiences. I rest my eyes and my mind when I look at it framed by dark wood, like a piece of art.
Maybe this is a good week to notice one place in your life where an old role is taking up precious room and energy. And then role right along – releasing it behind you as you swing your whole heart into Now.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2012. 2015 Immram Chara, LLC