Each Fall, I kneel in my fading garden, I wrap geraniums, sweet potato vine, and petunias around my wrists, and I pull. A few plants come willingly, bursting from their pots in a dusty shower, but most cling stubbornly to the soil they know. I spend the season’s last sunny afternoons combing through the earth with my fingers, tugging at the roots. I am patient and methodical, but the job is never clean. Each plant leaves some part of its complicated circuitry in the earth and each wiry root carries part of its home with it when it is pulled. This is as it should be. They have meant so much to each other.
Grandma Betty’s sewing machine is sitting on the floor of my garage these days. It hums and vibrates like a time machine as I pass it on the way to my car or step over it to retrieve a sweet potato from the bin. That sewing machine would carry me all the way to Grandma’s workroom if I let it, pull me right down onto her blue jacquard davenport. It has powers. It has roots. It could tuck me under the long worktable next to the box of fabric scraps from bridesmaids’ dresses, the gown for the Montgomery kolacky queen, somebody’s apron. Even now, years and miles away from where it started, that sewing machine exhales malt and yeast from the basement kitchen next to Grandma’s workroom. It practically speaks Czech. So it stays, though I haven’t used it in years. It stays, though Grandma is long gone.
The gurus warn against attachment. Attachment leads to suffering, attachment is an illusion, attachment is the root of all grief.
Each plant leaves some part of its complicated circuitry in the earth and each wiry root carries part of its home with it when it is pulled.
Hanging in the back of my closet –the way back– is my mother’s old full-length fur coat. I will never wear it, not ever, but I can’t get rid of it, either. When she bought it in the eighties, she was a 5’10” attorney with season tickets to the Guthrie theater and Minnesota Orchestra. She wore it over power suits with shoulder pads. She wore it over Ellen Tracy coordinates to dinner at the Minneapolis Club. My mom and her fur coat were an original eighties power couple: enormous, unforgettable.
She wore that coat to chemotherapy once, a couple of months before she died. Winter was unrelenting that year and she needed the warmth. She had shrunk an inch or two by then and was unsteady on her feet, a column of fur inching across the parking ramp. I carried our purses, a tote bag full of magazines and food I hoped to make her eat. As we walked I kept a hand stretched out towards her, as if I were an animal handler and she a bear stuck with a tranquilizer dart. If she lurched in one direction or another, I would be ready. Though she only wore her coat to the clinic that one time, all four months of her illness are encapsulated for me in that stretch of parking ramp. Tense, watchful, carrying too much.
Once we were inside, I lifted the fur from Mom’s shoulders and lugged its extravagant bulk with the rest of my burden down the clinic hall to the lab, then an exam room, and finally to the infusion room, where it was given its own chair. Nobody sat on it, though open down the front, its sleeves resting on the arms of the chair, it seemed willing enough to perform the office of comforter. A ghost of my powerful, protective mother’s former self. A ghost that lives in my closet. If I pulled it out and got rid of it, how much of my mother would come with it? How much would be left behind for me to keep?
Every person, place, and thing leaves us, yes, but they leave something behind too, threaded through the rest of our lives like strong, fine wires, reminding us how much we have all meant to each other.
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, The purpose of detachment is to let everything nonessential fall away –material things, our suffering, petty likes and dislikes– until only the purest, truest Self remains.
If I get rid of Grandma’s sewing machine and Mom’s fur coat, pull them from the garage and closet where they are of no use to anyone, something of their contexts will come with them –maybe a scrap of taffeta from a bridesmaid dress, a staple from the old davenport. Maybe a shoulder pad from an Ellen Tracy blazer or an old Guthrie ticket. They can go. The sewing machine and my mom’s fur coat are nonessential, just things. Even my grief for their original owners is ephemeral, like summer flowers. Everything earthly fades, dies back, and is replaced with something new: another machine, another coat, fresh grief, fresh love.
The extraordinary Mary Oliver, my very favorite poet, says:
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Everything and everyone in this life is temporary, but does that mean it isn’t essential? Can anyone help being attached? Every person, place, and thing leaves us, yes, but they leave something behind too, threaded through the rest of our lives like strong, fine wires, reminding us how much we have all meant to each other. Reminding us we don’t have to be attached to be connected.