I’ve been thinking a lot about keeping things lately. I’m in the middle of such a lovely, exciting time right now; I want to collect little mementos of this point in my life when I’m happy, young, in love, traveling and creating. I want to hold onto little objects that will remind me when I’m old that I had this beautiful life.
But that’s assuming that I will want to go back to my youth when I’m old; assuming that somehow everything will be worse and I’ll need little objects to remind me that things were once this wonderful. Would that even make it better?
I used to break down into tears whenever I moved into a new place because I would dig up all of the ghost-things I had hidden away in the closet — things I couldn’t bear to see very often. Gifts from friends I don’t have anymore. Things that remind me of people I am struggling to forgive, or hard lessons to learn. The last time I moved, I got rid of most of those things. If it hurts to keep carrying them, why do I cling to them? Keeping the objects won’t bring the friendships back or fix the wounded feelings.
Then I have some things that remind me of times that were truly wonderful: a bottle of scented oil from the first Celtic festival I went to at age thirteen. Every time I wear it, springtime and bright ribbons and bagpipes and fiddles fill my soul. A photo from the first time my husband and I spent the night together. He took me dancing on the beach and sang Louis Armstrong songs to me under the stars. (He is a wily rascal.) Glass prisms that hung in my grandmother’s kitchen window when she was alive and healthy. When the morning sun shone and a breeze blew through the window, the prisms cast dancing little rainbow-spots on the walls and the floor — perfect for a four-year-old granddaughter to chase around and try to catch.
And then there are some things I wanted to keep forever, but lost in such a delightfully appropriate way that I can’t be too sorry for their absence. Beloved treasures, well-read books and well-listened albums given away to others who will love them more. The first Green Man necklace I ever owned, lost among the Redwoods on a romantic autumn camping trip. I miss those things sometimes, but I no longer need them. They’ve already made their imprint on me.
I’ve been re-reading Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury for the first time in five years. I knew I was in for a doozy when the introduction alone made me weep. One of the characters, an old woman, keeps boxes of souvenirs and mementos from her youth: theatre tickets, fans, lockets. When two little girls come over to visit, they accuse her of stealing all of the trinkets from some young woman because, in their minds, she has always been and will always be old. She desperately tries to convince them that she was once a beautiful girl who played with toys and went out dancing, but they refuse to believe her. Naturally! To children, everything is just the way it is, throughout all time. So after a midnight conversation with the ghost of her late husband, the old woman finally agrees that she is, was always, and will be forever seventy years old. In fact, those combs and playbills and dolls belonged to someone else, and in the morning she invites the girls to come over and take their pick of the young woman’s belongings she has been holding hostage all of these years.
When I am seventy, I don’t want to be sad that I’m no longer twenty-three. Perhaps I’m already on the right track. If someone offered me the opportunity to go back to eighteen and falling in love, or thirteen and getting my first guitar, or seven and cuddling with my sweet golden retriever, I would say, Gods, no! I would not trade the liveliness of today, even with all of its own challenges, for the tumult of eighteen, the angst of thirteen, the helplessness of seven. I have already received whatever it is I needed to learn from each point in my life. I’ve saved the memories I want to keep, blurred away the ones I don’t. Hopefully each age I reach in the future will be so vibrant that I barely care to think about twenty-three.
Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.” I want to smile because I’m so engrossed in the present that I’m not concerned that the past is over.
What about you? Do you hold onto a lot of photos and keepsakes? Do the comfort or pain of the past keep you from noticing who, where and what you are right now?