Carefully I line up the long rectangle placed on my desk within the marked boundary on my phone screen patiently waiting for the wizard inside to cast a spell and seize it. Once a prisoner of the magic, the rectangle is whisked off to another universe, transformed into something very real and useful. No longer a simple slip of paper, it is now intangible yet practical in the material world.
How this works is beyond me. Technology – and certainly the rate with which it has taken over my life – boggles my mind. It does not trouble me, yet, as I can still muddle through and, when I’m really confused, push a button which magically links me with the best tech support there is, now off at college.
No, technology does not trouble me, but little slips of paper do. How is it possible that lifetimes of curiosity and travel, family and friendship, can be reduced to bits of paper covered in letters and numbers?
I used to pour over the pages that accompanied each little rectangle in its large manila envelope, but I had to stop. Every time my gaze would land on the words which, as they entered my brain, conjured spells of their own, time traveling me to the past. Some were happy trips filled with memories of crisp fall days exploring a field covered in flea market stalls. Others were quiet afternoons spent sitting in the front room, as she called it, captivated by tales of her childhood. Often they were fuzzy tableaus of faces blurred living somewhere in my dust filled memory, stories he told I now struggle to recall.
As quickly as my journey begins, it ends and returning to reality my eyes come to rest on the column of numbers next to the magic carpet of words. How is it possible for a life to be reduced to pennies now deposited into a bank account? And more importantly, why did I let it all go? Sold to strangers who do not possess magic stories whispering in their hearts? I know this is not a rational question. I know that it was impossible for me to keep every single item my parents acquired in their lifetime. I did keep some, but in the grand scheme of it all, not that much, and I feel guilty about it.
It was hard to let go and, truth be told, I still have some “letting go” to finish. In a way it felt like a betrayal, especially the items that once belonged to others, items for which my parents saw themselves as caretakers. How could I let all those go? I had no room for them and in reality, having some of them in my own home would have conjured up daily sadness, as did seeing their descriptions in print. No, I could not keep it all so I tried to choose carefully. I chose joy. I chose happiness. I chose short stories not entire novels. I chose haiku poetry instead of Encyclopedia Brittanica.
Folding the pages back into their envelope, the now deposited check from the auction house tucked inside, I take a deep breath. Lifting a prayer of thanksgiving for my parents, I also lift a prayer asking their forgiveness for not keeping more. I pray they now understand that the tangible items they surrounded themselves with will not keep them alive and here with me, with us. I realize now that they, especially my father, often lived in the past, not the present. Somehow I think he felt the best of his life was gone, bits disappearing as each person he valued vanished from earthly life. He attempted to keep them alive with physical reminders all around him. Reminders which became quicksand pulling him away from us, away from the present. It makes me sad now to think of all the stories he told of the times he shared with his grandfather knowing that my children do not have the same treasure chest of memories from theirs.
Placing the envelope into a file box, I close the lid. Little slips of paper, trinkets on a shelf, chairs in a living room, they do not represent a life well lived. That truth is written in our hearts and memories, cast there by the magic spell of love, waiting to be shared with others.