When our family road tripped, we traveled light. It was a spiritual exercise each summer to rediscover our values by paring down our life to the essentials. Every year, I packed the camper with the bare minimum. A small duffle bag of clothes for each person. A single pot, a single skillet for the kitchen. Our minimalist ethos meant that we always left lots of things at home. When it came down to it, most of our belongings weren’t worth bringing along for the ride.
When I got home from Rob’s memorial services this summer, from our road trip that had ended in grief, I discovered this little bar of Irish Spring on the shelf in my shower. Rob bought Irish Spring soap for our whole marriage. This was his last bar. I’d left it behind when we packed for the road. It was too small to be worth bringing along. Rob never returned to use it again.
It might sound crazy, but, when I first realized this was his last bar of soap, I treated it like a museum artifact. I carefully moved the little nub out of the water’s spray and placed it on a shelf in the shower where it rested beside his razor. It’s just a scrap really. Once I deemed it not worth bringing. But I didn’t have the heart to use it; it had been in my shower since before he died. That soap felt so intimate: his body was the last it cleaned.
I look at that little bit of soap, and I see my fears in it. I fear my instinct toward the frantic preservation of the mundane. I fear the waters of sorrow wearing me away into something small. I fear that with time my life will change shape so dramatically no trace of Rob will be left behind. I fear the using up, the replacing with something new. Preserve or use up. It’s all-or-nothing thinking, I know. Fear does that to my heart and mind.
I’ve recently remembered that there’s a third way. (Isn’t there always, if we look for it?) When I was a girl, my mother used to take the diminishing soap bar in the shower and place it atop a new bar — an attempt to waste nothing. No doubt, a Depression-era trick she’d learned from her mother. The two bars sat against each other when wet, and as they dried the two would harden into one. The two dried soaps developed a strong bond, unable to be separated even with the wearing down of subsequent use.
Recently, I decided to place Rob’s little bar atop a new one in my shower. His old small Irish Spring now rests against my new lavender bar. It’s a picture of how I’m learning to live my life in the face of loss. Like those soaps, Rob and I are bonded together forever. I know eventually the little Irish Spring will wear away, leaving only mine behind. Just as every day I must face the slow fade of his life from mine. Nevertheless, I believe my life will always be stronger because it was attached to his. Rob’s love for me will strengthen me all my days. In his absence now, strong not for preservation but for new life. Because life — like soap — is made for using, not for saving.