The Weight of Sentiment
Straining under the weight of the box he was carrying, my son asked, "Mom, what is 'Sentimental stuff'?" Those words were scribed neatly onto the side of the box in bold, black marker. I explained that the box contained memories of the past, gifts from friends and things we wanted to keep because they were special to us.
"Oh", he replied, and heaved a sigh of relief upon setting the box down. He straightened and said, "I learned something today. Sentimental stuff is heavy."
He went on his way, leaving the box of sentimental stuff behind and his profound statement hung in the air and engraved itself on my mind.
I still haven't unpacked that box. I actually have no idea what specific items are in it. It is taking up space on a shelf in our storage room and everytime I see it I am reminded of what my son said.
Sentimental stuff is heavy.
It doesn't have to be heavy, but sometimes it is.
Sometimes I find myself staggering under the weight of sentimental thoughts.
We have just moved. We have left a place that I really enjoyed living. It wasn't perfect, but I don't think about that. I romanticize our years in our previous home and my sentimental feelings nearly drown me and I find I'm treading water, unable to return to the past and unable to move ahead into the future with joy, expectancy and a sense of adventure.
My oldest daughter has grown so tall she can look me in the eye and we can share shoes. Instead of rejoicing in this inevitable procession of life I find myself staring at pictures of her as a little child and I get all teary wishing for the moments in the past: the feel of her head on my shoulder, her hand in my hand as we walked, her gap-toothed smiles, her childish giggles.
Waves of sentiment curling over me. Tossing me. Towing me. I am at their mercy.
This summer I turn 40. It shouldn't be a big deal. I've known all along that I am aging. People do it everyday, but there seems to be an extra burden of sentiment added to this birthday. A sense of loss and an overwhelming desire to hang on to the past at all cost. It feels like a loss of youth, a loss of a stage of life that was so precious. I feel like I am losing so many things; my hair colour - dark brown turning grey, loss of energy, my body is changing shape - not exactly for the better, loss of young children - we are all aging.
With thoughts like these no wonder I cling to the past and fill my mind with sentimental thoughts of the years gone by. If I feel like the best is over then it is no wonder that I spend so much time dwelling on the past trying to reclaim all stray memories.
Is it true? Is sentimental stuff heavy? Should it be heavy? Is it an unrelenting wave that I will drown under?
I suppose it depends on me. As I packed for our move I did actually throw out lots of sentimental items. It simply is not possible to keep every special craft, colouring page and note that my four loving children have lavished upon me. I had to sift through these presents and choose which to keep and which to discard. I had to remind myself that in getting rid of things I am making room for the future. A person could get overwhelmed by the clutter if they kept everything from the past.
It has been said that the state of a woman's purse is a good indication of the state of her house. I wonder if the amount of sentimental clutter is also an indication of the state of our mind? If our cupboards and shelves and drawers are bulging with items we can't part with, if our homes are so full of the past, is it an indication that we are living so much in the past that we cease to enjoy the wonder of the present and the anticipation of the future?
So, I've moved and it is true that many things we enjoyed doing, we will not be able to do in our new location and there is a certain amount of regret, but it is unreasonable to believe that the best is over. For certainly there can be enjoyment wherever you live. The challenge is to sift through the memories of the past and hold onto the most precious but to leave room in my heart for the addition of new memories. Why live in the past when we have the gift of the present?
So too with my growing children. Their baby years were precious, their preschool days enjoyable. Every stage holds joy. Why be filled with regret just because my daughter is tall enough to look me in the eye? She is growing up, this is true, but not sad. There is much to anticipate.
Even turning 40. I would rather not struggle with a heavy load of sentimental feelings for the past and all that is behind me, for surely that will only bring weariness and bitterness. I am surrounded by people who are advancing in years and they are graceful, joyful, confident and productive.
My grandmother stitches quilts for people in need. She laughs easily and finds pleasure in each new day.
My mother and mother-in-law are both energetic women pursuing interests and activities, learning new things and using their abilities to help and encourage others. They laugh at me when I tell them I'm not thrilled about turning 40.
They are right. Their lives show me that there are good days at all stages and phases of life. I feel certain that dwelling on the past is a sure way to stagnate and wallow. It will kill creativity, enthusiasm and usefulness.
So as I move forward, I hope I can keep my 'sentimental stuff' in proper perspective. May it not weigh me down so that I break under the load. I desire enough sentiment to think fondly of the past, but not so much that it eliminates anticipation and enjoyment of the present and the future.