There is an old desk that sits in front of a big window in my home office. I love that desk. It’s mine and it has been mine for all of the 26 years that I have lived in my house. It looks out the window and across a part of my backyard that has seen the life and death of an old and loved cherry tree, and is about to look out onto the lives of some new young trees that have recently been planted to carry on.
We discovered that the window in front of these trees was damaged and had to be repaired. Like the desk, the window is wide and has been there for 26 years. And to repair it, my desk had to be removed from its home and carried across the room to make space for a repairman to access the damaged window. And that was when things got interesting.
I sit at that desk every day, as I have for all the years that span the lives of my children. In many ways I have taken that desk for granted, as together we have navigated birth and death and love and loss along with the more mundane tasks of running a house and a business or two, complete with bill paying and scheduling the maintenance of the water heater or the car on any given day. We’ve seen and faced a lot together, that desk and I. And it has never given away any of my secrets.
And that is when it struck me, as I looked at my desk buried beneath its inevitable piles of papers that I literally only noticed at the moment we discussed moving it. That desk and I had shared 26 years of life between us and we had to sort it out. And that was daunting.
If you know me, you know that I like to face challenges head on. I like to deal with things directly, and some of my loved ones mock me for my penchant toward organization in all forms. So you might be surprised to hear that my desk and I sort of circled each other like two alley cats fixing for a battle. Or at least that was how it felt.
On the surface were stacks of papers from today, familiar sights. My list of intentions. My schedule for the week, my calendar. Many many current bills. Way too many. ? Those were easy to remove and set aside. They were vestiges of my present life, and I already knew how to deal with those. But as I lifted and moved these familiar piles, something that was wedged in the back next to the wall clattered down to the ground. I looked around the back of the desk to find an old dusty edged copy of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie sitting and looking up at me. This was most definitely NOT from my today.
If you are not familiar with the reference, this is a well-loved children’s book. My mind immediately flashed back to a time not that long ago when I would curl up on the sofa in my office with my sweet little boys – men now – and we would read our favorite book together. That desk had been there for that. And little did I realize that my desk held its own sentimentality for those beautiful old moments, too.
As I looked further at the papers and items that had accumulated and crumpled themselves in the most distant recesses of that desktop, I found great gifts from my family‘s history, and they made me smile. A very old photo, a forgotten invoice from a vacation long past, a recipe that had somehow escaped its file. My desk gave up its secrets a piece at a time, and I found myself tackling the task of sorting through 26 years with a full heart.
Make no mistake, it took time. Lots of it, over many days that extended into weeks. And it was not always so much fun. The gems of our past were liberally interspersed with reams of unnecessary papers that had been significant at one point or another and had now become fodder for the recycling bin. I inevitably clicked into Joanne Organization Mode, which is a familiar setting to my friends and family. I tackled one drawer at a time, I set aside “desk time” on my schedule, and I did all the things I would have suggested that you do had I been guiding you through a challenging task. And I thought about writing a piece telling you how to tackle a cleanup task like this. But then it dawned on me.
This was not really about cleaning out at all. This was about the passage of time and making room for change. This was about celebrating where I had been and welcoming where I was about to go. The person who sat at that desk 26 years ago had no idea who this person sitting at that desk today was going to be, and she had no clue what she was going to be doing there. And that alone was cause for reflection.
That desk had paid homage to times long past and time well used. And thankfully, cleaning it out provided me with an opportunity to relive some of those moments and feelings, and to carefully preserve them in a bin or a picture frame that I will cherish. But cleaning it out also provided me with an unexpectedly new, clean and hopeful canvas on which to paint my tapestry for the next 26 years and beyond, and for that I am extremely grateful.
I encourage you to find a place in your life to create your own new moment in time. You might find it in a desk drawer or in updating the photos on your wall or in examining your favorite bookshelf. And remember that every new moment in your life pivots on the moments that came before. As I sit here right now at my newly cleared desk gazing out the window at the spindly new trees before me, I’m thinking about how they will look in the spring with their new fresh buds and leaves. And I think it will be interesting to see what is sitting on this desktop when we get there.