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Monday, July 28, 2014

Not just things, never just things!

I open the cupboard and stare into its messy fullness, wondering where to start. I reluctantly take out a bunch of papers and begin rifling through them. A keychain falls out, begging to make the transition to the other side of possession, where it can rest peacefully among other trash. It is asking me to be trashed. I pick it up, my hand makes the short arc to the bin and then stops. Wasn't this the key ring I used to carry my first dorm room key? All of thirty two years ago? I pull my hand back and open my palm to stare at it and the images come rushing back.

"Maa, the milk is boiling over!" Have to stem the memories and pay attention to boring details such as scorched burners and spilt milk.

Ten minutes later I'm back and the keychain, fortunately, gets thrown where it belongs. But I find a picture frame with some stars pasted on it. No picture, but that's no matter, I know what used to go there. My daughter's kindergarten photograph, after she made the transition from wailing newbie to confident star pupil. Now how can I discard that? A few more minutes of staring into the frame does it. It goes into the "keep for now" pile and I go back to sorting the sundries on the shelf. Broken bracelets, odd single earrings, old diaries, a Beanie Baby of indeterminate colour, ... so many precious items that pull me into spaces of feeling and remembering.

Each time I plan to clean up and clear up the layers of living that we trip on all over the house, I run into this wall of memories, all tied up in these things, some broken, some bruised (the things, not the memories), some only vaguely recognizable, but all somehow important. Too important to be cleared away. Like the ticket stub to a Broadway performance of "The Phantom of the Opera" or a notebook with my father's handwriting, mathematical equations that I cannot understand but that carry the sense of his hand moving over the page, or the case of an old camera that holds the stories of weddings and family outings.

One of my friends suggested that I take pictures of the things and discard the material versions. Pack all those atoms into the digital space instead, to float ambiently on my electronic picture frame as I try to avoid distraction at work. That would allow me to boast of neatly stacked books on my shelf instead of a rumble of odds and ends of vague description. This would mean making space for the many new layers of living that are waiting in the boxed present to be unwrapped and put on shelves. It also means privileging the space of now over the remnants of the past, those little catalysts that speed up my backward journey to a different time.

An hour passes and I have made little progress. I look at the piles (very small) that have built up on the floor by the cupboard. The "trash without doubt" pile is negligible. The "keep for now" pile is larger, but the largest pile is "do not discard". I need help here. Someone who invests no meaning in these things--and who can see them as just things--needs to step in and help.

1 comment:

Ganeshan said...

I am and will continue to be in a similar situation, particularly since my wife, Usha, left us for a better world. Therefore I cannot help you! But if someone helps you solve this problem, fi let me know! Best wishes!