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The Third Pile


I heard Caroline Myss say once that she has no use for the past - so much so that she doesn’t even keep photographs. This sounded extreme to me but I also understand it. Because even pictures of happy times bring up strong feelings for me and can threaten to emotionally derail my mood or my day.


I was thinking of this over the weekend when I came across an old box of framed photographs I still haven’t unpacked from the divorce. There is a storage area in the basement where bins of Christmas stuff and winter clothes and this pile of boxes lives. I have a vague sense of the contents; I just can’t bring myself to wade through and integrate them back into my new household.


I should get rid of these things. Clearly, if I haven’t visited them in over 5 years they must not be a meaningful or necessary part of my life. But I just can’t bring myself to destroy certain pieces of history - especially old pictures. Even the ones of me and my ex.


What would Marie Condo say about all of this? What is the third pile about? The one that isn’t marked KEEP but isn’t marked THROW AWAY either? It’s the purgatory pile. It’s for the stuff that needs to exist in our lives but only in a vague, background, quasi-imaginary way.


One of the pictures I found was of me leaning against a fallen tree in the woods by the house I grew up in. It’s September 2000 and I was home visiting my mom for reasons I can’t remember anymore. I was urgently trying to save enough money during those days to quit my cubicle job - a goal I achieved a year later, just a month before the towers fell and life as we knew it in NYC would never be the same.


The person who took the picture was my malignant narcissist boyfriend but there was no understanding of such terms in the collective consciousness at that time so I just referred to him as “an asshole”. When we broke up and he took to stalking me at work and at home and surveilling my email, I just thought he really loved me and was struggling to let go.


Because I lacked the fundamental framework to make sense of our dynamic - and especially my role in it - the pattern repeated itself, as patterns do, until we grasp the wisdom that’s seeking to make itself known.


The next narc in the pipeline cue was a much longer and more complicated contract. He became my husband. We would spend 15 years locked into the dance until I finally gave myself permission to leave, to live beyond the pattern, and heal this ancestral, feminine wounding in my family lineage.


I come from a long line of powerful women who aren’t at peace with their power. And their ambiguity leans toward fear. And their fear causes them to choose partners who squash their strength. But that ended with me and I have no doubt that my own daughter will not feel compelled to pick up the dance. Already, in her still-young teenage life, her choices have been radically healthier and different.


Holding this picture in my hands, 22 years after it was taken, a lot of feelings come rushing back. I appreciate this version of me. I see her pain. I see her deflection, looking away. I see her determination. I see her confusion, her fear, her loveliness. I see her Soul.


And I remember something else Caroline Myss said once. She said: Heaven doesn’t give you the whole forest - you couldn’t handle the whole forest. Heaven gives you the acorn.


We are where we’re supposed to be on our paths at any given time. We couldn’t handle more and we’ve already outgrown less. As our awareness and our capacity expands, our readiness changes and we feel the urge to transform. We are always working within those parameters: the desire for more and the space that’s necessary to accommodate it inside our lives.


Sometimes revisiting the past, even with its nostalgic propensity to gut-punch us, is a way of generating appreciation for ourselves and all the difficulties we’ve lived through. We can feel multiple, contradictory emotions at the same time when we’re generous with ourselves. We can mourn the hard stuff and we can take solace in how far we’ve come. We can miss what’s over and we can feel gratitude for all that we now have. We can resent the brutal nature of some of life’s lessons and simultaneously rejoice because the greatest students get the toughest assignments and the higher we rise through the ranks of our challenges, the more gorgeous the view from above.


Have a powerful week friends,