BOSTON — Drive through any suburban neighborhood this summer and you're bound to encounter that classic symbol of the American spirit, the moving van.
All spring, a bumper crop of "For Sale" signs sprouted on newly green lawns. Days or weeks later, optimistic "Sale Pending" signs appeared, followed by triumphant "Sold" signs.
Now behemoth-sized vans are lumbering through quiet streets, emptying Colonials and Capes and split-levels, transporting sofas and swing sets, cribs and clothes, books and barbecue grills to new addresses. In the process, movers are also carrying another kind of cargo, invisible but equally important: the dreams and hopes that accompany any move.
Summer represents high season for the moving industry. Almost half of the 43 million Americans who are changing addresses this year will do so between May and Labor Day, industry specialists say. The average American, the US Census Bureau adds, makes 12 moves during a lifetime.
What a lot of packing and unpacking!
For those of us on the staff of The Christian Science Monitor, July has brought another kind of move, this one professional. For the past few weeks, we have been emptying the newsroom, moving temporarily to the adjacent Broadcasting Center while the 60-year-old Christian Science Publishing Society undergoes extensive renovations.
After deadlines, staff members have been paring down files and papers, winnowing books, packing boxes. Then, department by department in a carefully choreographed plan, movers have loaded desks, computers, and filing cabinets onto dollies, transporting them through corridors, up and down elevators, and into our new offices.
Relocation can have its rewards. Any move, whether domestic or corporate, offers a chance to clean house, to examine possessions in a new light, to view space in a new perspective, even to reorder priorities. A move serves as a perfect time to simplify. Putting one's belongings on a diet, as it were, lightens an owner's load, physically and mentally. As one telling indicator of the inevitable, burdensome consequence of a consumer culture, the average shipment of household goods now weighs in at a record 7,100 pounds, according to Mayflower Transit.
One friend, a college dean who teaches classes in time management, sends a pre-move e-mail offering friendly but stern advice. "WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT," he writes, his capital letters adding urgency. That's easy enough to say when "it" belongs to someone else. The task becomes harder when a nagging thought whispers, "You might need this - someday."
Still, in the process of paring down and packing up, homeowners and employees alike often hear another quiet reminder: Don't get too comfortable, too settled. Change can bring rewards.
Change doesn't always represent progress, but progress always requires change - a new way of seeing and thinking and doing. Every move, personal or professional, marks an ending. But each also signals a beginning, filled with potential promise.
As Monitor staff members settle into the "new" newsroom - unpacking boxes, arranging bookshelves, tacking favorite photos and prints to the cubicle walls of their new office homes - an aura of excitement and energy prevails. The smooth transition serves as reassurance that, as editor David Cook noted last week, the newspaper is "wonderfully independent of location."
That observation holds as true for families-on-the-move as for a newsroom-in-transition: The specific address matters less than the overall attitude and approach.
In 18 months or so, we'll return to our quarters at One Norway Street, ready for a new century of publishing. Until then, it will be business as usual, with fresh perspectives, in our new space.
Now if I can just find my dictionary....