Like my writing, which comes forth in fragments, my house is full of minor mementos: objects, many having little or no value elsewhere, but each having achieved some significance for me or for Meredy. I do not always understand the significance of her seeming junk, nor she mine, so we each have to be careful what gets thrown out. This burden more often falls on me, as she rarely throws anything out.
As men go, I am pretty sentimental. As I write this at my desk, I look up to see a framed poem written by my father and a small picture of him at his desk. Taped to my wall, I have a picture of Claire, walking on the beach on the first day we spent together, on my shelf, an early gift from Jason (a statue of what could be Lao Tsu fishing), a beautiful Ganesha , given at my 50th birthday by my friend, Alan, a vase given by Dylan, pictures of Meredy, a Hummel that my mom left me, a sweet shot of Kyra and Jon and another of my friend, Peter sitting with my Mom that always makes me smile.
But the pictures are easy to attach meaning to, as they are of those I love. More curious are my two old letter openers, which hold no value whatsoever, except that I have had them both for at least 50 years, an old hip flask that has seen a lot of ski slopes and wild rivers, a copper box that once belonged to Brian, a very administrative looking briefcase that was a gift from students when I was given the Directorship of my school. On my garage workbench is a box of tools from my grandfather, Finbar McGrath, who worked on building the Titanic, a framed poem and picture of my friend, Lane, lost now a year, and an old piece of bamboo that was the cane given to me, but never used, on my first teaching day in Australia.
I know that I am not alone in my sentimentality. What do we call those things that seemingly litter our lives, those objects that one day will be regarded by someone sifting through the detritus of our lives, causing them to say “What the hell did he keep this for?” And we will not be around to explain the rock that we carried to remind ourselves of a truth, or the cheap plastic rosary that came with a special moment, or the shot glass from a memorable weekend. For these trinkets have meaning only for us and their meaning will die with us no doubt.
I think this is what compels me to jot the fragments of my life, moments that are mostly otherwise meaningless…just moments, shards of experience that served to make up what is this person. Oddly, I have rarely written about more momentous events, such as my first marriage or divorce, as I am not sure that I am a fine enough writer to do that justice and my intent is not to become either maudlin or mean in my writing. While my other pieces are fragments, a 22 year relationship is a larger canvas and cannot be fairly sketched in one reflective afternoon.
I think that we all might recall our lives in fragments, many brought to the fore by a certain smell or word or song, some relived in dreams or revisited in vague shadows of memory. Being an educator, I understand that memories do not appear for us of a piece, but they are constructed, or reconstructed, from what was at best a partial understanding in the first place. So first we construct our own experiences, then we store them in either the most convenient or perhaps the most opaque manner, only to unearth them again in all of their incomplete or sloppy or otherwise filtered glory…and, viola, we have produced a memory…sort of. Like the objects strewn about my desk, they are imbued with meaning …even if that meaning is a little frayed at the edges, dusty or dog-eared.