Leaving the Weight of the World Behind

The Festival of Booths is upon us, and the Menorat-ha-Maor teaches:

"The commandment to dwell in the sukkah is intended to teach us that a man must not put his trust in the size or strength or salutary convenience of his house, even though it be filled with the best of everything … ."

A timely quote, since my husband and I are in the process of downsizing. Sukkot encourages us one week each autumn to reframe the familiar tenets of shelter and home. For one week, we live — or at least eat — in these fragile, open-to-the-sky dwellings.

Once, so we're told, we wandered in the desert, secure only under the Sheckinah's embrace. But now, be it desert or metropolis, hut or McMansion, the sukkah is there to remind us that true security comes from Above — and not within — our walls.

I think about this as my husband packs up yet another box of books for the giveaway pile. Since our decision to downsize — timed with our youngest child leaving for college — we are emptying our house of all unnecessary clutter. Soon, we'll put the house on the market.

Our family and friends are aghast at our decision. I imagine that they think it's premature: One minute, we're hosting a large high school graduation party and putting up out-of-town guests, and the next we're taking out the leaves in our dining room table in anticipation of future space issues. But our house has felt oversized since our older daughter left for college four years ago. With her sister following suit, we're uncomfortable with two people rattling around on three floors.

What's more, we're looking to rent, rather than buy, an apartment. We want freedom from the upkeep — let someone else deal with constant and costly repairs.

"What about when the kids come home?" ask our friends.

Oh, we'll always have a room for them. Not the same room they have now, and not their own room, but a room with two beds and reasonable storage for what they've left behind. Our older child moved to Boston after college and is happily ensconced in her work life there. How often will she actually come home for more than a weekend?

Maybe our friends are really saying: You finally have a lovely, grown-up home. With your kids gone, don't you want to savor that space and quiet? Aren't you ready to relish the sense of rootedness that you've earned?

I think that, for many people, the idea makes complete sense. It's a wonderful thing to grow old in a family home that can also serve as a home base for your kids. But my husband and I seem to be drawn to lighter structures.

It's a bit analogous to the way many of us lived back in our 20s. No one was too weighed down by possessions — partly because we moved around a lot and partly because it took us a long time to settle down. We didn't mind sharing bathrooms, apartments, potluck dinners or pull-out sofas.

Something about that ease and fluidity is a good antidote to stodginess. And though it's natural that age brings with it a greater need for comfort, I hope that I don't get so set in my ways that I'd never sleep, if need be, on a friend's couch or air mattress.

Or eat some meals in a leafy, outdoor hut with no heating.

The sukkah reminds us that human-made dwellings are impermanent. That's something we as Jews have had experience with for quite some time.

My husband has finished weeding out our books. Now he's gearing up to start on the kitchen. Though this move is minor — not even a blip compared to leaving Germany or Spain — there are, nonetheless, pangs when you leave behind objects and views that have quietly sustained you over the years.

But my younger daughter is off to a new adventure, and so are we. Though we've pared down our possessions, we'll still have — unlike the sukkah — a real roof over our heads. With the help of God, we'll continue to stay warm and safe and dry.

And someone is always welcome to sleep on our couch.

Mara Sokolsky is a freelance writer living in Providence, R.I.



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