What’s the Six-Pack Holding You Back?

I recently had some friends over for dinner. The night before, I bought a bunch of food and drink. I needed room in my fridge, so I removed a six-pack box that had one beer left. The box sat on my fridge’s top shelf for a while, and it kept that position solely due to some sentimental value attached to it. I didn’t want to throw it out, but at the same time, I needed somewhere to put my new supplies—and those were perishable. Thus, I put the box aside, filled up my fridge with my groceries, and went about my day. 

The next morning, as I groggily prepared myself breakfast, I opened my fridge door. Something seemed off. The inside of my fridge looked bigger now. I had so much space! Did my friends and I really eat that much food the previous night? Was something missing? Or taken? I was perplexed. It took a couple trips, but it finally dawned on me: That six-pack box wasn’t in there anymore. I had gotten so used to it over the past couple months, it basically became part of my fridge. Even though the box was taking up room and doing nothing productive, I eventually grew used to it— to the point I didn't even notice its presence. It took a need—i.e., space for my friend dinner food—to inspire the change. But now that the change happened, my fridge was better for it. The box would not be making a return.

The point of this anecdote isn’t to remind you to look check your fridge, or clear out your closet, or do any sort of actual cleaning. Rather, it is to ask yourself: What are you holding on to that you don’t really need? As a packrat, I can argue just about everything I hold on to is important and has meaning to me (all my junk brings joy), so I understand how hard it is to let go. And not everything has to be banished with extreme prejudice. But if you needed to get rid of something temporarily, and you can’t even remember it the next day—heck, you even find life is better without it—then that could be a sign that the object/feeling/emotion/memory needs to be let go.  

I held on to that box because of the memories associated with a person who used to be in my life. And maybe, in a way, continuing to hold on to that box was holding me back mentally or emotionally. That may be some Instagram-level psychology, but at the end of the day, my fridge is better off with the space—and my heart and mind are better off moving forward too. It’s OK if not everything stays around forever. Even if we’d like it to. 

This Too Shall Pass

About two years ago, I experienced a bout of summer love—exciting and dazzling, then gone on a summer wind. It hurt dearly at the time, and while I knew rationally that the pain would pass, the time still seemed to go by at a snail’s pace. I tried several coping mechanisms, from rationalization/complaining to drinking, but at most, those burned off some angst, which would pop back up again. Eventually, though, that hurt changed from a jolt you could feel in your fingertips to a general ache. More time passed, and that ache dissipated into a memory, like vapor. I have that memory with me now, and while I can recall the emotions involved, they don’t land the same punch. I know it hurt, but it doesn’t hurt anymore.  

As I was getting ready for church this morning, I mulled over this memory and thought about how the highs and lows of our lives are apparent only in hindsight. Some of that is the the result of the storytelling we do to make sense of the chaos. Like, in my story, that dalliance from two years ago is but a step towards the character I am today, who is stronger and wiser. That “failure” is an easy-to-see inflection point—a type of “death” that led to new life. Similarly, events that seemed like undoubtable benefits didn’t end up being as great as they initially promised. That isn’t always the case, of course: Positives can beget more positives, negatives can beget more negatives. But none of this is linear or predictable. Tons of changes are happening simultaneously—both quickly and glacially—and we tend to isolate the ones that are easily identifiable and/or critical in the story we wish to tell. 

Today’s readings at mass helped frame my thinking even further. The theme: Don’t focus so much on the worldly because all things—both good and bad—pass. Here are some select lines from the first reading, the second reading, and the Gospel.

First Reading, from the Book of Ecclesiastes:

Vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity!

Second Reading, from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry. 

And from the Gospel of Luke:

But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’

These select lines seem to burnish Catholicism’s reputation as a wet blanket. But with a little more digging, I think these three readings offer a very inspiring message.

That message: Be in the moment and don’t be so preoccupied with the minutiae because everything passes. Thus, spend as much time as you can doing good to make this life a little bit better, and when God calls you back home, you’ll have something to show for your time here on earth.

If you’re nursing a broken heart, these words won’t help much in the moment, I realize. I was there. But here I stand, two years later, telling you the pain will pass. My words are just that—words, which can’t make the hurt go away. But as someone who has been wandering the desert for almost a decade now, I have built up quite a reserve of experience. What you think is eternal will eventually be carried off by the summer wind. True whether you want it to or not.