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Essay: A seat of one’s own

I recently learned one of life’s greatest lessons in a furniture store. My fiancé, Marcus, and I were buying a new sofa. For him it was a simple purchase — a place to sit. But for me no purchase was ever that simple. As such, an epic search ensued. I researched wood grains, frames and in the case of antiques, their provenance and integrity. I had done this before with other “acquisitions,” agonizing over dishes, linens and curtain rods. At 34, I hadn’t made a single spontaneous purchase. Some said I simply had too much time on my hands; others said I had inherited my mother’s exacting standards. The truth wasn’t nearly that simple.

Every purchase has been deliberate, something to bequeath. I wanted to be remembered fondly. I was always, it seemed, preparing for my death. Morbid? Maybe. But how do you learn to stand patiently in the moment when death has chased you for so long that you can’t remember a day’s rest?

I have faced death often. Before I turned 28, I underwent two liver transplants and lost my colon to intestinal disease. I had a living will before a driver’s license and various hospitalizations before my first school dance. Yet I didn’t realized how burdened my soul had become until I set out to buy the sofa.

Marcus found my preoccupation with whether or not it was something my grandchildren might appreciate unusually exaggerated. “Is this really necessary?” he protested.

I offered a standard response: “This may seem labored and unnecessary to you, but I enjoy taking the time to pick out just the right item.” He wasn’t convinced. Neither was the decorator who had been trailing us around the store for two hours.

Sure, a sofa isn’t just a sofa. Sofas are functional pieces of art. As a decorator, the salesman knew this better than anyone, but I had piqued his curiosity. With Marcus knee-deep in fabric swatches, he lured me over to a nearby credenza where he gave me a stern talking to. This is what they do in Atlanta. Regardless of your age or station in life, an elder always has the right to set you straight, even if it’s in a furniture store.

He didn’t presume to understand my line of thinking. It was outside the realm of interior design and thus his expertise, but he wasn’t blind. I was young, energetic and obsessed with planning my estate. He looked around and when he was certain we were alone he leaned in and advised, “Stop planning for your death and start living your life before you give the Man above the wrong impression.”

I looked on utterly confounded. “It’s the memories they’ll hold dear, not a sofa, no matter how much effort you put into picking it out,” he said. “Enjoy the sofa!”

I remained speechless as he set off to find Marcus. I knew he was right — that while my body continued to heal after each setback, my spirit was slow to catch up, that I needed to stop preparing for my death and start savoring each of life’s vivid moments. In all my years of contemplation and reconciliation, I wouldn’t have guessed that such enlightenment would have happened in a furniture store, but something in me shifted that afternoon.

I am learning to enjoy life without burdening myself with thoughts of legacies and funerals, wills and final wishes, to stand appreciatively in the moment for no one else’s sake but my own.

More importantly, I know that I need to find a place to set my soul down, to give it a moment’s rest.

Kim Lute (BA ’98), a Colorado native, is a DuPont and Peabody Award-winning journalist at CNN in Atlanta. She is writing a book, Too Soon for Flowers — a memoir about how she has coped with her illnesses. Kim’s wedding is planned for the fall of ’08, and she has yet to fret over a single purchase.

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