Tuesday, 1 May 2012
In less than a week we are moving house – from a three-bedroom house, with plenty of storage room, to a two-bedroom flat with a small second bedroom – which means a brutal clear-out has become necessary. For a natural hoarder like me, nothing could be more challenging than making snap decisions about what to keep and what to throw away. With every item going into the bin, or the charity bag, I need time to grieve and consider. It drives my partner insane and has been the cause of endless rows.
On my bookcase, for example, I have a set of two-volume dictionary on English phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions, which are one of my most treasured possessions. As a student in Brazil, I saved months of pocket money to be able to afford them. I have always loved words and languages. Collecting imported reference books, particularly dictionaries, through which I could learn all those wonderful new words and expressions, was a treat that madly excited me. Even though I probably know most of the words in them now and have not used the dictionaries in years, they hold too much sentimental value for me to part with. "Keep."
Since he became blind following a series of strokes, Binks spent a considerable amount of time curled up in it, sleeping. The basket was his favourite place in the house, a place where he felt safe and comfortable, where, on house cleaning days, he sought refuge from the noise of the vaccum cleaner he detested. It was also where he was sent to if he had misbehaved.
“Binks, (geh) In den Korb!” ((Go) into your basket!), said in an angry voice, was an instruction he understood as punishment for bad behaviour. (Binks had come from a dog rescue in Germany and only responded to commands in German.) It made us feel less cruel to know his place of punishment was also his safe haven.
The local pet charity was more than happy to accept the donation and reassured me the basket would go to a good home. I felt relieved and happy to hear it, but the moment I shut the house door behind me, tears came flowing down, quite unexpectedly.
"We still have his ashes and his collar", my husband said, trying to offer comfort. We do, but Binks’ basket was his home inside the home, impregnated with his smell and presence. Where it used to lie, in a gap underneath the kitchen counter, the empty hole now looks awkwardly large, screaming the blaring absence of a life that once was.
We react in widely different ways when we lose something or someone we loved. Even though Binks was my husband’s inseparable best friend for 12-13 years, when he died, he dealt with the grief by detaching himself from all objects associated with Binks' memory. I, on the contrary, latched onto every scrap of memento I could get hold of.
We could not agree on his ashes – I wanted them back, he did not. I put my foot down, paid for the ashes to be returned, and placed Binks’ remains, along with his collar, inside his basket, his place of slumber.
My partner says his ashes are not him and has forbidden me from displaying them anywhere in the house visible to him, but they bring me comfort, closeness, and keep fond memories alive.
Even in romance, when our love is unrequited, or betrayed, we tend to cling onto to the pain and can’t easily let go. I often wonder why. Partly we may be reluctant to accept that what or whom we loved is gone and beyond our reach; partly we may need the experience of intense pain as an antidote to intense love, although, far from ‘curing’ love, pain only exacerbates it.
A twice divorced psychotherapist I once went out with told me love and pain were two sides of the same coin. We continuously crave and pursue love in order to feel the acute pain of its loss that reminds us we are alive. I dismissed his views as having been skewed by his failed marriages, yet I was alarmed by the possibility this could be true. I do hope we are not all masochists seeking perverse pleasure from the grief of loss.
Over the years I have become better at letting go of both material things and personal connections, although I cannot say I have reached that point of nirvana, where I can freely let go without suffering. Whenever I start feeling possessive, I try to remind myself of the people in northern Japan, who have lost everything they ever owned in the recent earthquake and tsunami.
But with living things, be it an animal or a person, the process is so much harder. And if you have, loved and let go in the past, you know it only takes a small trigger to make the memories of love, of the warm tingling love made you feel inside, come back to haunt you. It can make you long all over again for a moment that will not return, a scent, a touch, a smile, a look, a kiss. It can break your heart again and again.
I wish I knew for certain there was at least a karmic cycle to the kind of love you once let go but can’t ever forget, that there was a way of knowing it would one day come back into your life, perhaps in a more mature or changed form, as a reward for the courage of letting go.
Meanwhile I embrace the pain; I do not fight it, but accept it. The pain I may one day be able to let go. The love not. The love is mine to keep and keep and keep whatever anyone says.