As life goes by, only precious memories remain

In the last century, the habit I wore had a small pocket at the top right near my shoulder. Not far from my beating heart. A heart that beat with the desire to be a good and obedient novice. (I did say it was in the last century.)

During our training, we were taught the value of renouncing material possessions. The only gift from our parents that we were allowed to keep was a small pocket watch that fit in this pocket. The day I took the habit, my parents gave me a watch. The back had an engraving with my name and the date. It was a good watch. My mother wanted the best for her daughter, the nun. My father probably engaged the jeweler in a discussion to get a better price.

After habits changed to modern dress codes – well, we thought they were modern – and we moved from convents to smaller houses and apartments, we took turns preparing meals. I loved to cook big — for the sisters I lived with and for friends and family. So I’ve accumulated a few favorite kitchen utensils.

Although the hoarding of material possessions was not encouraged, my favorite personal possessions were my books. A small library was eventually replaced by much larger ones.

Dressed in my modern wardrobe, I no longer had a watch pocket, but I still had the watch I treasured for the memories that came with it. I kept it in a little jewelry box in my dresser. At the time, I was teaching in a high school and living in the convent of the hospital where our sisters served. The gruff older sister who was in charge of the nursing school was a wonderful presence. I was a little scared of her at first, but soon realized she was the nicest person I’ve ever met. I have often perched at his knees learning many life lessons.

She still wore the habit, all white, as our nursing sisters did. Her watch was dead, she said. “I have one you can borrow,” I offered. I went to my little jewelry box, took out my engraved watch and gave it to her.

A few weeks later, she felt sick to my stomach when she told me that my watch had gone through the hospital laundry – still in that little pocket near her right shoulder. Not far from heartbeats. She gave me the recovered pieces. Hiding the feelings in the pit of my stomach, I put on a happy face and told her not to worry. It was just a watch, just an object. But I kept the coins in that jewelry box for years.

Recently in this century, I decided to start downsizing. I had helped clean homes where one sister had died and another had moved to a nursing unit at our motherhouse. Garbage on garbage. I decided that I didn’t want anyone to have to go through this when I left my little apartment. It’s time to downsize.

First the watch parts. Out. Then the books. I sorted them into piles. I had to keep the most precious. Others are gone or donated.

Then the kitchen. I was no longer cooking big with my friends and family at my table. Some are already gone forever. Favorite kitchen utensils: given away or donated.

I continue to sort and reduce my footprint. As hard as it was to see some things – things — leaving, there is no comparison with the pain of seeing people leave. People. I can’t let people go. From my heart print. Death of brain or body…please God, not another.

This is a downside of aging: survivor. First grandparents, then parents, now brothers, now lifelong friends. I once read an opinion that said that humans invented God so as not to fear death so much. It does not work like that. For me, the greatest fear of death is not my own but the loss of skin-to-skin contact with those I have loved all my life.

Take my watch. Take my books. My pots and pans. Each of my possessions. Easy. But give me a little more time, please, with skin and bones, with beating hearts and working brains. ‘Cause when you don’t, my heart breaks over and over again.

What remains are precious memories, held close. A mother who wanted the best for her daughter. A nice old woman who taught me about life. Friends who sat at my table and enjoyed great food.

There must be a reason why I survive. Perhaps to keep them alive in the memory, in the stories told, in the faces remembered, in the dreams shared.

I settled down to ignore things and to embrace hearts that no longer beat. They keep me going. They are the ones I will never let go. They still live in me.

Love remembers. The greatest joy and the deepest pain. Who could ask for anything else?

Amanda J. Marsh