in the garden
July 24, 2018 — By elsa

the stratigraphy of a life

Don’t grieve – anything you lose comes around in another form. – Rumi Even as I ingest less of the more, there seems to be more of the less, so more or less I still have the same dilemma. What to do with all the stuff? (And I’m talking here about the good stuff. That […]

Don’t grieve – anything you lose comes around in another form. – Rumi

Even as I ingest less of the more, there seems to be more of the less, so more or less I still have the same dilemma. What to do with all the stuff? (And I’m talking here about the good stuff. That stuff that’s left after you Marie Kondo-ed).

Even paired down, there are still dishes, ritual objects, clothing, linens, jewelry and souvenirs, books, archives, letters, photos, and art. Each thing capable of conjuring people, places, and experiences I want to remember, and to honor. They remind me of what I value. They carry meaning and messages. Layer upon layer, they are the accumulation of generations of inheritance and years of travel. There are flea market finds, gifts from friends, even urban treasure yielded up on especially good trash days. Carefully curated, they say a lot about who I am.

When I was little I asked my mother not to get rid of any of the board games. I was convinced I would never have enough money to buy them for my children. After my father died, and we were emptying my parent’s home of 50+ years, we sold all those board games, it turned out they were valuable. I never had children. We moved my mother into her new place, a lovely high rise building. For her, adrift and disorientated, this was a huge ocean going liner. She was on a long vacation, away from where she belonged, away from home.

Hauling my father’s books out of his university office felt like carting out his body. Books tell our story as well as any biography ever can. Record collections do the same. I sold my many LPs long after I got rid of my last turntable. I saved only ‘Meet the Beatles’, ‘Layla’, and ‘Out to Lunch’. In New Delhi on our honeymoon, I spotted a tea strainer that I had to have. Later I understood that the photo would have been enough. Now, what of the thousands of photos?

I’ve come to see that memories are also stored in my body, not just in my mind, but in my bones, my heart and my cells. They are stacked like the tuna cans piled 10 high and 5 deep in the kitchen pantry of a friend, daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Letting memories go? Which of them will I want one day? Which will I need? My mother and I have almost no shared memories any longer. They have been slowly vanishing with her mind. I used to think that meant we no longer had a relationship. Perhaps this is just the ultimate de-cluttering. Are they really all that important? She is still here.

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