Let it go.
That’s the advice given to hoarders. These three-dimensional memory-triggers connect us to events, people, passions, and pinpoint places and times in our lives. They can pile up and disable us from getting past, well, the past. Removing the tangible threatens to erase the intangible. Disposing of a family photo or a distant gift slices away that person we recall, that birthday we celebrated, or that moment that is forever gone as if we are peeling away our own skin. Letting it go says goodbye and we aren’t prepared to let that vision be erased from us.
But what’s the opposite of hoarding? Is it when we are minimalists and we purge objects from our surroundings? When we disperse and dispose and declutter our lives, are we more willing to destroy the mental images connected to our stuff? How do we keep those memories without those mementos?
If I kept every object associated with every fond recollection along my journey through life, the United States would be littered with storage units from Florida to Utah to North Dakota scattered with the remnants of experiences I am unable to eradicate. I want to hoard those memories, but I cannot house the physical reminders of the pitfalls and peaks of my life. Every hand print cut out by my sons, every Christmas ornament ever to hang on a bough, and every photo freezing a single second of my decades of life lived would clog my path forward. Yard sales, donations, and even trash cans do not represent the unwanted, but rather the cleansing of the physical, but not mental pallette. So what remains behind the abstersion, removed from our homes, but not from our hearts?
As my nest emptied, I found myself with bins and boxes and buckets of boyhood. The most precious items of all, my sons, will not always surround me, so why should their belongings? They took with them the imperative and essential leaving me to guess at what trinkets they might someday want to trigger their own childhood recollections. There is one tote that contains the hard facts of my childhood, and well towards the end of my fifth decade, even that got pared down. Between the demise of the teenage years and their own mid-century, the bins of belongings they might want to save or visions they happen to remember could change, would change, and will change. But what mental matches will be extinguished and what eternal flames will continue to burn in their minds?
Imagine if we could preserve all the senses connected to our memories. Photos are the most obvious visual representation of our past, but imagine if smells could stay with us just as long. I would still think of my father whenever I entered a lumber supply store. Hearing the sound of the electric carving knife at Thanksgiving, or curling up with those soft, winter booties before the dog chewed them are long since kept only in my mind. But I’ll never forget hearing the noisy hum that preceded the turkey dinner, and feeling warmth despite the howling wind beating around the corner of that miserable apartment. The thoughts fade away from us, we think of those lost relics less often, and perhaps we even forget the perfect pieces that fall into the blur of the past.
But what will forever count, what matters most, is not having the object to grasp, or smell, or hear, but the sensations stirred when the thought crosses my mind. So as I began to part with those pieces of my life and cleanse myself of property, I captured final photos, not as a way to hold on, but as a reminder to record the emotions and memories tied to the tangibles and change what I held in my hand, to what I hold in my heart. This is where I will be able to gaze Behind The Abstersion.