Every book has an Acknowledgements page intended to make special mention of those who have helped the author complete the written project in some significant way. Acknowledgements may cite editorial or professional support, research or interview cooperation, informational or inspirational sources, or simply emotional and moral encouragement. I have had such pages in the front of my own books; the list of acknowledgements may be long or short, detailed or general, depending on the breadth of the work. A major book of non-fiction or an important academic treatise might have involved numerous interviews and multiple media sources, for example, while a slim volume of poetry might only need to identify those who have helped sustain the poet’s creative efforts.
If you think of a life as a book being written while lived, then obviously the list of acknowledgements the “author” needs to make grows steadily over time. Often those acknowledgements are made at pivotal points in the “author’s” life, on important occasions such as graduations, weddings, awards, or retirements — but only if the person is wise enough, and humble enough, to recognize that he/she couldn’t even survive all alone, much less achieve anything.
Sadly, sometimes acknowledgements are only made by others on behalf of the author in the form of eulogies or obituaries when the story is done. Frankly, that’s too little too late. I have tried along the way to thank those people who have profoundly influenced my life and work, those mentors, colleagues, family and friends who have encouraged me and helped me to do my best and be my best self. It isn’t always easy to see how significant the contributions of others are to your life at the time, but with age comes the clarity of hindsight and the opportunity to address any oversights.
Now stay with me here, because I’m about to make a segue that might not seem to make sense. Since I’ve been in the throes of “spring cleaning” (see April 5 post), I’ve realized that acknowledgement is a necessary part of clearing out and trying to simplify. Those things — most especially books, but also other objects— that have contributed to who I am, what I know, and what I am able to do also deserve some recognition, even as their continued presence on my library shelves must be reevaluated. As I sort through my 1,500+ volumes and prepare my donation for the local library, I have nothing but gratitude for what these very real authors and their very real books have taught me. Next to the people in my life, books have been, and are, my closest companions.
I have, for instance, built a collection of gorgeous books on floral arranging, home decorating, tabletop and entertaining, not to mention cooking, clothing, tailoring, quilting, art and design. From David Tutera to Bunny Williams to Martha Stewart to Jacques Pepín, I have them all and I have learned from them. But I have to admit that the need for many of them has passed; at this stage, I have either mastered the skills they contain or no longer need to.
Inevitably, part of acknowledging these authors’ contributions to my life is to also acknowledge that certain periods in my life are over. I am no longer hosting elaborate dinner parties, no longer entering flower shows, no longer upholstering couches or making draperies. And so it is also with the corresponding accouterments of those times: the silver coffee service or the multiple sets of china and glassware; the numerous vases and containers for floral displays; the closet full of linens and serving dishes, the bins full of Waverly™ home fabrics. Of course, I appreciate the memories these things evoke, memories of decorating a brand new house or of fancy dinner parties with delightful friends, but these are not events that will likely be repeated.
Cleaning out a clothes closet brings about similar realizations. Besides the fact that some of my favorite garments no longer fit, I am now retired in Southwest Texas, not working in the Northeast. I don’t need heavy sweaters or tailored suits, and I certainly don’t need formal attire!. Except when I travel, my everyday wardrobe consists mostly of yoga pants and t-shirts, albeit in those New York shades of grey and black. I will forever credit the great 5th Avenue department stores, Lord & Taylor, B. Altman & Co., and Saks Fifth Avenue, for teaching me how to “invest” in good clothes and achieve a timeless style, and I still associate particular garments with certain events, much as one does when hearing an “oldie but goodie” song on the radio. But once again, the needs and occasions for which those clothes were acquired are no longer part of my life.
I could continue through a whole inventory of housewares and keepsakes and tchotchkes that must be reevaluated in my current cleaning frenzy, but you see where I’m going by now. Aging is a fact of life, and aging well is about acknowledging the past with gratitude, accepting the future with hope, and adjusting present expectations accordingly, whether those expectations involve physical limitations, emotional baggage, or lifestyle choices.
Actress-turned-philosopher Brooke Shields has been quoted as saying, “I persevere, and not just blindly. I take the best, get rid of the rest, and move on …” True enough, but the less encumbered you are with “stuff” of any kind, the easier it is to move on.