Sharon Randall: Keeping and letting go

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 2, 2018

By Sharon Randall

What do you want to keep and what do you want to let go?

That’s high on my list of Life’s Hardest and Most Important Questions. I am forever trying to answer it. Especially lately.

Next week, total strangers will bring a truck to our door and haul off everything we own. Except the clothes on our backs, the car we will drive 500 miles to our new home, and as much stuff as we can pack in it.

It’s called moving. Some people, God bless them, do it often. For others, like me, it’s a rare and sobering adventure.

In all my adult years (never mind how many), I’ve moved only three times. My first husband and I moved into our first house with a bed, our clothes and a few wedding gifts.

The next day, I went to a resale shop to look for a dining room table. Instead, I bought an old bench that had seen better days as a church pew. It cost $20. When my husband saw it in our empty dining room, he winced and said, “I’ll refinish it.”

“No,” I said. “It tells stories.”

That was a lifetime ago. Over the years, I packed that house to the roof with three children, a few dogs and enough assorted stuff to furnish a subdivision.

Then the kids grew up, we lost their dad to cancer and I began to learn about letting go.

First, I let go of the illusion of being in control. Life isn’t about being in charge of what happens. It’s about being in charge of what we do with it.

Next, I let go of putting off until “tomorrow” things I care most about: Keeping in touch; saying I love you; being truly and fully aware and alive.

I let go of the kind of people who cling to anger or hatred and tried instead to surround myself with those who shine with kindness and grace.

Finally, I let go of being alone. And then, when I fell in love, remarried and moved out of state with my new husband, I let go of more stuff than I kept: Clothes I liked but couldn’t wear again unless I lost 20 pounds. Dishes I never used and never would. Toys my kids loved but didn’t love enough to take with them when they left.

After that move, I swore I would never again amass meaningless possessions. But 12 years later, here I am, still learning about letting go.

Yesterday, while cleaning out a dresser, I sorted through an old box of keepsakes. Among the many things it held were:

• A flower-shaped brooch my grandmother wore that is now speckled with rust.

• A photo of my dad before he left to fight the Nazis in World War II.

• A toy pistol I was given by my college dormmates to help me “keep order” after they elected me dorm president.

• A letterman patch presented by a coach (my late husband) and his team in honor of my “contributions” to their winning a championship. (I had washed their sweaty towels.)

• And a poem by Anonymous: “When I’m dead I hope it’s said, her sins were many but her columns were read.”

Nothing in that box may mean much to anyone, except me. But keepsakes are treasures for the memories they preserve. We keep them, hold them close and never want to let them go.

That’s why I keep that bench, for its history, the stories it tells me, all the people and moments and happiness it recalls. It’s a keepsake that won’t fit in a box.

I’ll ask the movers to take good care of it next week when they move it back into a house where it sat for more than 30 years.

We’ll all move someday from this world to the next. And we won’t need a truck to do it. We’ll take nothing with us and leave behind a memory of the life we lived, the mistakes we made, and all the love and kindness and grace we tried to show.

That memory might not be a treasure in the eyes of the world. But maybe, if we’re lucky, someone will keep it and hold it close and never let it go.

Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove, CA 93950 or at