Up in the attic
Down on my knees
Lifetimes of boxes
Timeless to me
Letters and photographs
Yellowed with years
Some bringing laughter
Some bringing tears
Time never changes the memories
The faces of loved ones
Who bring to me
All that I come from
And all that I live for
And all that I’m going to be
My precious family
Is more than an heirloom to me
– Heirlooms, by Amy Grant, E. Brown Bannister, Robert B. Farrell
We’re packing up. We’re sorting and boxing and discarding and selling and giving away. And as we sift through our old boxes, we unearth forgotten treasures: preschool crafts; birthday trinkets; photos and notes and cards and souvenirs… We chuckle over the inexpert scribbles from our Kindergarteners and the funny messages from our fledgling writers, and we grow misty-eyed over images of their sweet baby and toddler years.
It can be difficult to know what to hold onto.
The temptation is great to just keep everything, especially for a sentimentalist like me; these scraps of paper and pieces of our children’s history so powerfully invoke my memory of our family’s early years. Each item is like an amulet, with the power to transport me to the past – and I treasure this, because without such talismans the years we’ve left behind can become just a blur of wiping noses – changing nappies – feeding-soothing-cuddling-correcting-teaching… But these precious keepsakes have piled up, even in our seven short years of living here – there is too much to store; too much to move across the seas.
And so I am sorting. I’m sifting through, and I’m learning to let go. Now everything goes into one of three piles: recycle, keep, and photograph. One of the boons of living in this digital age is that almost any memento can be scanned or photographed and saved onto a memory stick that takes up a fraction of the original object’s space. Thus piles of papers, mounds of clay-work, libraries of schoolbooks, and closets full of clothes with sentimental value can be distilled into a single photobook, or just saved indefinitely (and eventually forgotten about) in cyberspace. This is the way life is; the things we cling to – those that seem so important at one stage – may be more easily parted with as the years go by.
I learned this lesson in a different way last summer. After a number of years with an unstable shoulder joint, I finally dislocated it so badly that it didn’t automatically pop back into place as it had always done previously. As I waited for the ambulance to arrive, I cradled my arm tightly in the other arm to try to minimize the pain of shifting the joint. Regardless, my muscles periodically tensed up in excruciating spasms until my prayers were answered and the shoulder spontaneously relocated – just before the EMTs arrived.
Later (in the months before I had surgery to fix the damaged ligament), I asked my physio what I should do if the injury recurred. His advice? Basically to do the opposite of what I had done: instead of holding my arm tighter, it would have been more helpful for me to let go. What I really should have done was to dangle my arm in as loose a manner as possible, so that it could drop out of the wrong position and pop back into place. Letting go was the answer.
How often do we do the opposite of what we should do, though? How often are we so afraid to let go that we hold tightly in the hopes that this will minimize the pain?
Letting go is not easily done. It is an act of faith. It’s a declaration of hope in the future as we move beyond the comfort of the past. We don’t let go of everything, but nor do we cling to it because we are fearful of the future.
Let me hold lightly the things of this earth.
Transient treasures, what are they worth?
Moths can corrupt them, rust can decay,
All their bright beauty fades in a day.
Let me hold lightly temporal things,
I who am deathless, I who wear wings.
Let me hold fast, Lord, things of the skies,
Quicken my vision, open my eyes.
Show me Thy riches, glory and grace,
Boundless as time is, endless as space.
Let me hold lightly things that are mine
Lord, Thou dost give me all that is Thine.
-‘Hold Fast True Riches’, by Martha S. Nicholson
These little mementoes of our history; these treasures from our time here in this house, in this community, are precious because they are a key to our past. But I am learning to release things so that I am free to embrace the promise of our future. I am learning to ‘hold lightly the things of this earth.’
I am learning the art of letting go.