Opening Words from Sun. August 22 by Dave Gutekunst

Hello to everyone in Zoomlandia! I think Zoom messes up our sense of space and time, so I’ll start with a disclaimer: I am greeting you from about ~800 miles to your east, in my new home of Bethesda, Maryland, where I have been for about 10 days. I just started a dream job at the NIH, but even with a dream job, moving is still a stressful and emotionally taxing experience. And that’s what I’d like to talk about today. 

Covid adds a new dimension to the stress of moving and saying goodbye. To me, the last 18 months have felt like a slow-motion goodbye to so many of the people and places that give life meaning. Moving during this strange time feels especially surreal, because it’s less of a clean break between one place and another, and instead more of a shift between two amorphous spaces in a great expanse of in-between. 

Still, moving is a chance to start again, to declutter and (re)establish healthy habits. For me, the decluttering has been pretty extreme. As I was getting ready to put my house on the market, I went from room to room and realized that I had expanded into the space — kind of like a goldfish — and that I would have to downsize considerably. Some furniture was just too big, and much of the rest was a mixture of forgettable Ikea furniture and amateurish woodworking projects. When I considered the costs of carrying these things with me — financially, ecologically, psychologically — it just didn’t make sense to try to hold onto it all. Besides, all of the moving companies are delayed or overbooked, so I made the rash decision to just sell or give away everything and move only with what I could pack into my Honda Fit. 

This decision had some upsides. First, I managed to convince several buyers on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace that the bookshelves, tables, and patio furniture that I’d made myself were “craftsman constructed” in the “Rustic Industrial” style, which basically means reclaimed wood and iron piping that I picked up at Refab STL in Tower Grove East. 

The second upside was a real blessing. As my move date approached, there were still lots of unsold items, so I listed them with the Young Ethicals group for free as long as people could come pick them up. As a result, I got to see so many good friends one last time, often for the first time face-to-face in 18 months. 

But unavoidably, extreme downsizing brings challenges. As I cleared out the house, I found unopened boxes that I have been moving from place to place, some for as long as 15-20 years. They are effectively time capsules from past jobs, past homes, and past versions of myself. By necessity, for this move I had to finally dust off the boxes and triage their contents. Many items were easy to part with: do I really need notebooks filled with scientific articles or homework assignments from undergrad engineering courses? Nope. But interspersed among the academic odds & ends were cards, letters, and photos from people who have either passed away or just passed through my life. Sifting through these memories — cataloguing and keeping almost all of them — was at times overwhelming. Compared to the items that I sold or gave away, these mementos are not physically heavy. But even hidden away in dusty boxes, they had a psychic weight that I hadn’t recognized, especially the artifacts of unresolved relationships or regrets. Now, having done all of that sifting and cataloguing, I feel like I have been through an intense regimen of emotional weightlifting. I am tired, but hopefully also stronger and healthier. 

I’ll end on a note of appreciation. I have been trying (and mostly succeeding) to avoid the obsessive consumption of political commentary that dominated my free time for much of the last 5 years. And so during my drive from STL to the DC area, instead of loading up my phone with political podcasts, I went to the Ethical Society website and downloaded platform presentations. It was a wonderful and calming journey of nostalgia that made me realize how important the Ethical Society has been throughout my time in St. Louis. I don’t feel like this is goodbye, especially now that Covid has given us greater skills in connecting remotely. I hope you are all doing well, and that we can connect or reconnect sometime soon. 

Dave Gutekunst Opening Words
NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.