After a visit to the roman catacombs when she was ten, a childhood friend of mine became unable to cut her fingernails, to let even the smallest piece of something that once belonged to her go. Inadvertently dropping a Kleenex into a gutter in Florence, she wept when the rainwater bore it away.
Though I don’t weep for lost Kleenex or nail clippings, I feel very close in temperament to my almost pathologically retentive friend. Even after years of meditation practice, I still have a powerful resistance to letting go. Whether it’s people, animals, or things that I’ve loved, I want them to be with me always—as in an Egyptian pharaoh’s tomb, where the lover, the cat, the papyrus scrolls, and the household goods all come along for the ride.
Every time I go on retreat, by the third day I find myself mourning the gold charm bracelet that my grandmother gave me when I was a girl and that was stolen from me in college.
I’m fifty-one years old now, and I sit on my zafu, remembering every charm from my grandmother’s travels, as if I were counting rosary beads: the Eiffel Tower, the British bobby’s hat, the Egyptian scarab, the Jerusalem chalice. . . . I used to feel mortified by such a blatantly materialistic fixation—but over time, I’ve come to see the gold bracelet as a kind of alchemist’s distillation of everything I’ve ever lost. And life itself: the grandmother adding charms. . . .
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