There’s a quotation I have always loved: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
Loss is an inescapable part of our lives – a breakdown in a relationship; the death of family and loved ones; people who come in and out of our lives and we lose touch – sometimes because of change of location; sometimes a gradual weakening of a once-strong friendship. We nay suddenly recall them because we are looking at old photos, or come across a greeting card they once sent you. Nostalgia can strike us any time, but especially as we get older.
I never set out to be a collector. Whenever I’ve read about millionaires with fabulous private collections of art and sculpture, I’ve thought why not just keep a few pieces you really love and give the rest on loan to a museum or gallery so that others can share their beauty.
Yet I find now that I do have collections. They’re not worth any money and probably no-one else would want them. Most people in my age group have accumulated possessions they can’t bear to part with, despite moving homes and maybe even countries several times in their lives.
Who remembers that song of yesteryear: “Among My Souvenirs” Part of the lyrics were:
“Some letters tied with blue,
A photograph or two,
I find a rose from you
Among my souvenirs….”
What we are really collecting are memories. There are times in our lives we want to hold on to forever and when we handle these mementoes, they bring a smile to our lips, a tear to our eyes and a bittersweet wave of nostalgia.
I have more than a thousand books, and nowhere to put them all. Those that overflow my bookshelves are stowed in cardboard cartons. Many are paperbacks, yellowed pages and tattered covers. But to throw them out would be like disposing of dear friends. Lots of poetry – some by almost-forgotten writers like Alice Duer Miller, Rupert Brooke, A. E.Housman, Dorothy Parker. Old novels by Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, Hemingway, Steinbeck. Wonderful books of Jewish essays, that provide great ‘Divrei Torah’. Books on philosophy, psychology, the craft of writing. They all represent my youth, when I discovered the world and the wonders it contained. No, I can’t throw them away!
Then there are the photos. They started out in albums, but now there are too many and I’m too lazy. Beloved family no longer with us . Friends of my youth. Weddings. Babies bright-eyed and dimpled. Rites of passage – first day at kindergarten and school; bar mitzvahs; graduations. Grandchildren. Holidays. They are all cherished, and overflow in drawers and cabinets.
Bric a brac. One earring (the other lost) given by your first boyfriend. Small children’s awkward drawings. Their clumsy efforts at making you strange things from wood or paper mache. A ‘challah’ cloth with crooked stitches. A letter on a torn page that proclaims in shaky Hebrew letters: “Savta, I love you.” How could you ever toss those?
And now I also have a collection of shells and rocks. Most were gifts from grandchildren who wanted to give me something in return for the toys I gave them. There is a pine cone and a curiously-shaped rock. Shells you can put to your ear and hear the sea. And stones I gathered at the Dead Sea on my sister’s last visit here, when wespent a perfect day of peace and tranquillity together, exchanging memories of our parents and siblings, our childhood, the dreams we realized and the ones we lost along the way. All precious. All irreplaceable.
In a wonderful book I read many years ago by Daphne DuMaurier titled “Rebecca”, she wrote; “I wish we could bottle memories like perfume; and whenever we want, we could pull out the cork and re-live them.” Well , I believe we can … we just have to close our eyes and let our memory take us back to enchanted times; and we’ll find that we are smiling, even if a tear is trickling down our cheeks at the same time.
“Get rid of the clutter” we’re told. Not me. I shall go on collecting mementoes and memories until I die. And I hope my children, even then, will save a few of them. Because some things are worth more than money!