That's the title of a short story I heard while a writer-in-residence at a local college several years ago. It was about an older couple who were downsizing their home and had to figure out what to do with their accumulation of possessions. After they went through a list of everything and couldn't see their way to tossing anything, one of them said, "There are no small things."
Photo: Goats in Cyprus.
That's my position and my weakness. I have t-shirts in my dresser drawer from almost all eras of my life. I could do a memoir based on t-shirts. The oldest is from the late 70's or early 80's. It's black with a white silkscreen of cuffed hands, one of them holding a conductor's baton. The message says, "Back to the Classics."
"Small things" have been on my mind this weekend as we completed the move of a house and I had to confront the thousands of small articles I hold on to both in heart and hands. This weekend I finally acknowledged I would not need all of the graded final exams from one of my university posts, the oldest from 1993. But I was tempted to keep all the ones with names on them that I recognized.
Memory, for me, is tied up in physical things, and memory crowds my mind and heart, perhaps too much.
My beloved wants to help me to live more in the present. She sees the importance of memory, but thinks brooding on the past makes no sense. This weekend we had a discussion over a pint liquor bottle. It is clear, has no label, but the screw cap says "Matthew Gloag & Sons. Perth."
She wanted me to give it a decent burial in the trash. It's an ugly little thing, truth be told.
What she doesn't understand is the deep, rich story behind that bottle.
In 2005 I went to Cyprus on a Fulbright Seminar. Of course I fell in love with the place. It is indescribable, both magical and mundane, a place fully loaded with 7000 years of continuous habitation, an hour's plane ride from Jerusalem or Cairo, about a millimeter away from the ancient world.
One day our Fulbright hosts took us on a tour of the Troodos mountains. They are not much on the absolute scale, but they are a world away from the tourist-filled beaches of Limassol and the politics of the capital, Nicosia. Under spreading cedar trees we walked through the main street of a town that was asleep like an old dog in the sun. A wrinkled woman who had no English sat us down in an empty taverna and gave us a syrupy lemonade-like concoction for a drink for guests. From her I bought a jar of pickled wild capers and a pint of Cypriot liquor, zivania, in that Matthew Gloag and Sons bottle.
It was Cypriot moonshine. No tax stamp, no bottle with fancy label. It tasted like old socks. But I will never forget that day, and I will never throw away that bottle.
It's quite possible I hold myself back from something better by holding on to possessions and memories, many of them not as pleasant as that day in Cyprus. But for me remembering is like breathing. There is no past, present or future for me. On my best days, all time is one, and all time is joy.