Furniture & Farewells / by Sarah Schwartz

"Wow, so the desert house is gone, huh?" the text inquired.

I had messaged a dear friend to say that along with a variety of kitchen goods, bedroom furniture, and a couple of lamps, I had inherited a bottle of expensive scotch from the sale of my grandparents home in Palm Desert, and would need his and his wife's help in making sure it didn't go to waste, once I was settled in my new condo.

"It is. And I now own many of it's pieces. There's some poetry in there somewhere."

"No kidding," he responded.  "Luckily, old furniture in a new setting takes on new life, and looks different in a new light."

I smiled, grateful for this friend and his way with words, as well as his keen understanding of everything the desert house was and is to me.

I had gone to say goodbye to the house a few weeks prior—the little casita where I spent the summer of 2012—a season I was certain was going to bring me new life, but instead, marked the beginning of a chapter of darkness and loss. Broken relationships, a broken heart, a broken spirit—you name it, if it was mine, that summer (or in the months immediately following) it was a mess.

For years after, I would avoid that house like the plague, because what it represented was more than my heart could handle—a dizzying mix of memories from the last time I truly felt like myself, and the almost comical way that the choices made there would cause my little world to crumble soon after my departure.

But on that farewell trip, aided by time, distance, and a good therapist, I found myself able to appreciate it's particular beauty—the wisteria covered arch that leads to the pool deck, the distant mountain skyline that burns orange and pink at sunset, and the fierce heat that warms you to your very bones. When I finally said goodbye, the hard memories it held seemed a little softer, and a few of them, maybe even a little sweeter.

Palm Desert, for better or for worse, changed me. It was a wild, terrible, and wonderful summer, and it is a wild, terrible, and wonderful part of my story.

And there is poetry to be found, four years after that season, in the fact that I am taking pieces of that house with me into my future.

We don't ever escape our stories, do we? We only get to choose how we engage with them, how we wrestle and grow in and out and from them.

And while I don't consider the desert or anyone involved in that season an enemy, I often think of Ann Voskamp's words, and how from time to time she will pray what she calls "an old prayer for old pain".

"Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.
Enemies have loosed me from earth more than friends have.
Enemies have made me a hunted animal, finding safer shelter than an unhunted animal does.

The longer I walk with you, Lord, I find I have no enemies: only your gift of chisels etching me deep."

The longer I walk with you, Lord, I find Palm Desert was never my enemy—only your gift of chisels etching me deep.

And so this week I will unpack my belongings and place them in a dark cherry wood dresser that used to sit in that house, and make a bed that belonged there once, too. I'll wash wine glasses by hand that once adorned it's kitchen shelves, and gently place them above my too large collection of coffee mugs.

I'll take a few boxes of unnecessary or worn items to Goodwill—surely not everything from that season served a purpose or needs to continue with me.

But that which has driven me into his embrace, loosed me from the earth, and etched me in the search for safe shelter, well, those things can stay. I'll need them for whatever is next.