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Letting Go

December 29, 2015

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I carefully glued the gold-rimmed glass wing back onto one of the eagles that festooned the old serving dish. This is not the first time I have repaired it, but still it is important that I do so. It is the kind of item one might find in a second-hand store or rummage sale, something kept for years by its owner and later lovingly preserved by the family as a keepsake. Eventually, however, the time comes to let it go, and it finds itself in the hands of strangers.

But that is not the case with this one; not yet, at least.

This particular serving dish has also been lovingly kept, for it once belonged to the matriarch of my wife’s family, her grandmother. It is one of the few things that remain of her other than a few photos and the memories. The memories are clearly more important, but somehow we invest some part of the person in the cherished object, and it becomes hallowed. And that makes it hard to let go.

Many such things can be found in our house, small remnants of someone dear to us. Most are not functional or even displayed. However, just possessing them somehow retains a connection to that past existence.

There are the tools that belonged to my father, old wrenches, rusty saws, hammers with split handles, a rake with bent and broken tines. Though I have tools of my own, I can’t bring myself to part with these relics.

There is the sewing box of my mother, still filled with buttons of assorted sizes, shapes, and colors and the needles, thread, and thimbles with which to reattach them to long-gone apparel.

There are a few pieces of handiwork made by my nephew — a photo he took of High Point of which he was so proud, a now-faded layered sand painting in a cylindrical glass jar.

There is the heavy old black cast iron pan of my mother-in-law, well-worn from her many years as master of her kitchen, the diamond ring she bought at an auction in Atlantic City after she stepped into the auction hall just to get out of the heat.

And the serving dish with the eagles, broken wing now repaired.

As difficult as it is to let go of these things we hold onto, it is even more difficult to let go of that which is more abstract — the idea of who we were as age forces us to lose those transient qualities and abilities we once possessed, the very presence of others who have left the impermanence of this existence.

I have been thinking about this problem of letting go for several reasons. It is the closing of the year, this month in which the year itself meets its end. December can be for many a month of both joyful celebration as well as bittersweet nostalgia. It is the month that too many people special to me have departed this life: my young nephew, my mother, my wife’s mother. It is a time of nostalgia, a time of longing for what once was but is no more.

And though this is a reality we know we must accept, we are not immune to this ache that arrives unannounced and shrouds our hearts. So we hold on to what we can and grieve for the loss of what we can’t. We eventually let go little by little as time goes by, and perhaps that is the only way in which we finally make our peace.

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