I’ll start this with a dream I had about ten years ago, then tell about some of what I figured out about its symbolism.
I’m helping a friend clear out her father’s things after his death. We travel to where he lived, needing for some reason, to avoid someone he lived with. This is her second father; she has four. That means she’s already done this once and will have to do it two more times. I had only one father and have done this only once. It’s remarkable to me that she’s able to go through such a stressful and emotional exercise so many times without fracturing. I wonder what her secret is.
While we’re going through her father’s things, another man shows up to go through his father’s things. He’s highly distraught and seems incapable of deciding what to do with the items he has. He moves them from one pile to another and back again, then starts a new pile only to change his mind and aimlessly move things among his growing number of piles. It’s obvious he’s desperately attempting some sort of organization and is unable to arrive at something that makes sense to him. It’s his first.
As we all go through the left-behind stuff, carefully deciding or trying to decide, whether to dispose of it or whether to save it for some future purpose, I come to the realization that it’s all the same. At first this realization escapes me because the items are so diverse even while there’s this nagging sense that somehow they’re all the same thing.
One man leaves behind scholarly books, another only some men’s magazines. Some leave toothbrushes and electric razors, others leave denture cups and shaving mugs. Some leave behind mohair sweaters and crisp white shirts, others leave polyester leisure suits. Some leave polished shoes and well-used hiking boots, others leave wheelchairs and cheap metal canes. Some leave cars and boats and keys to comfortable houses, others leave shopping carts and plastic bags of aluminum cans.
Throughout all of this separating and organizing I keep struggling to determine what it is about these oh, so very different articles that ties them all together, what ties them all to us, what tied them all to the fathers who have gone off and left them.
Finally I think I’ve got it. It’s permanence – or lack of it. Our things outlive us, yet their meaning is not in themselves but in who they belonged to, who gave them value, how they fit into the lives that have ended.
These leftovers tell us about the people they belonged to, what their values were, what was necessary to them to live their lives as best they could. They tell the stories of souls on a journey, of egos desperately trying to make sense of it all, of souls and egos doing a pas de deux while each hears a different music. Sometimes desperately, sometimes eagerly, each trying to make their unique dance a thing of beauty.
Sometimes for a brief moment they manage to be in time, in rhythm with each other, and the ecstasy of that time gives the encouragement to continue once they inevitably lose the rhythm and again dance in dissonance. They may forget the details of that lovely time when it all came together but they never forget that it did happen.
And so these things they leave behind, denture cup and yacht, canes and diamond rings, are all symbols of their search for the perfection they knew could be theirs if only they could once again find the rhythm, if only…