When curiosity beckons, we don’t always know where it will take us, or how long the journey will be.
Last week a friend, a spry septuagenarian who pedals around town like nobody’s business, mentioned she was overwhelmed by the thought of preparing for her upcoming yard sale. I asked her if she wanted help. My offer stemmed from empathy (I, too, can become paralyzed when it comes to giving away or selling things) but I was also motivated by intrigue. Might the things she was selling have stories to tell? And might she inspire me to keep shedding belongings I no longer need? Having never been to her house, I had no idea of the volume of stuff involved. And I considered asking about that, or getting a feel for how much time she thought it might take, but then I decided against it. What could happen if a deadline was not pressing upon the task, squeezing the life out of it, or forcing hasty choices as the clock ticked?
I showed up just after noon, unsure what awaited, other than lunch. After eating a colorful salad beneath an apple tree, we started simply, filling a box with stuff that she’d sell for $1 each, like a carton of unused pencils, glue sticks, highlighter pens, staplers of all sizes, and other office supplies that I typically hoard, despite having more than enough. We worked our way to higher end items, like the black body glove she wore under a wetsuit, dry bags to carry gear on aquatic adventures, telemark skis and boots, trekking poles, a snorkeling mask, a beige mosquito tent, red winter mountaineering boots, a sturdy zippered black duffel for global expeditions, and blue noise cancellation headphones she had worn as a pilot.
“Are you sure you want to sell these?” I lifted the pilot headset from its white box. It seemed like one of those rare life mementos a person might keep forever.
“Someone else can have them.” I admired her practicality.
“And the price?” I placed a round sticker on the box, a black Sharpie poised in my left hand. .
Not only was she a fearless navigator of land, mountains, rivers, oceans and sky, she also was – and still is – a spelunker of the heart and explorer of the mind, having lived for years at a meditation center. Perhaps Buddhist practices of non-attachment made selling these things easier? We priced her Tibetan text covers and altar cloths, dazzling brocades that invited one to stop, sit and breathe. She had a pair of scarlet and yellow gomdens (see picture) and zabutons, too, awaiting the derrieres of the devoted.
In the middle of it all, we snacked on homemade peanut butter cookies and drank tea. I was vaguely aware that my former, hard driving self would have wanted to have been finished by then, to have made speed and productivity the measure. But that wouldn’t have left much room for dialogue and the simple pleasure of marveling at her belongings, many unfamiliar to me, and how they had come into her life.
After pricing and sorting kitchen appliances, including a gleaming pasta maker, and utensils, I picked up her giant lumpy backpack, the purple and blue canvas faded.
“How much do you want for this?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “$15?”
“That’s it?” I asked. Then I said, “The bag seems very heavy to me.”
“Well, it needs to be if you’re carrying 50 pounds in it.”
Just thinking about that amount made my back hurt. I reached inside, curious if anything was weighing it down. I retrieved a checkered shirt, a wrinkled bandana, a zippered blue gear sack, and a beige jewelry-sized cardboard box. In it was a shiny compass, unusual in its rectangular shape.
“Oh that’s where it was!” she laughed. “When my daughter visited I wanted to show it to her but I couldn’t find it.”
She put the compass box on the kitchen counter. That was a keeper. I convinced her to ask more for the backpack: she could always lower the price if a haggler showed up. By then we were almost finished, and she needed to get small bills at the bank before it closed. After saying goodbye and walking to the door, something nudged me to take a closer look at the compass. As I took it out of the box, some $50 bills fanned open like an accordion. She counted them.
“I can’t believe there was $200 in there!” Her eyes widened.
“And you almost sold that backpack for $15 with all that stuff in it!”
We both guffawed. I squinted at the currency: the bills were from 1996.
“What else is hiding in your house?” I joked before heading out.
In a fast paced world, curiosity often takes the back seat to efficiency and deadlines. We might bookmark what piques our interest and attend to it later, assuming we were alert to it in the first place. Sometimes, curiosity is as subtle as an impulse. If we are moving too quickly, we might not feel it, and we can go for years unaware of the surprises and treasures inside ourselves.