Holding Hands

As I type this, my wedding ring is in a drawer in my nightstand, along with:

  • My father's father's watch
  • My mother's father's money clip
  • A Maglite
  • A pair of onyx cuff links
  • Twenty or so sets of plastic collar stays
  • An old pair of earbuds that don't work with my current phone
  • Several old and mostly empty journals
  • The old band from one of my own old watches

I've always liked my ring. I liked it because it was beautiful—it's a two-color ring, concentric bands of platinum and gold. And I liked it for the symbolism—it was actually made as two rings that were fused together, but each is still a recognizable individual within the new whole. But I think mostly I liked it because it was mine, and because it stood for something that was ours.

A few weeks ago, I tweeted out a question: "Those of you who have been divorced, if you’re willing to share: what did you do with your wedding ring?" Over a hundred people responded and shared their stories. Some people sold theirs, some kept them for their children. A surprising number threw theirs into nearby bodies of water. Others found ways to turn them into something new. I was surprised at first that so many people replied, but in retrospect it makes a certain sense. Even the most amicable of divorces is bound to be one of the more emotionally charged experiences most of us go through, and of course many divorces are not amicable. It seemed to me that many of the people who replied might have been seeking some kind of catharsis or unburdening. If so, I hope they found it.

But I think, too, that there is something about this kind of sharing that reveals both the ways the rhythms of our experiences are commonplace, but the details are still unique. Each story shared represented an individual and inimitable life. But most of them also rhymed with other people's stories. Feeling that rhyme is, I think, a way of feeling connected to something bigger than yourself.

For myself, I have trouble imagining that I'll actually get rid of my ring. I am a terribly sentimental person. I just went and dug my little "treasure box" out of a cabinet in my garage. Inside are a bunch of things that meant something to me at one time or another:

  • Some rocks I found under the deck at the cabin my family used to rent when we would visit Lake Tahoe after Christmas
  • A chipped onyx ring that a friend and I found on a playground when I was in second grade
  • A silver Pinewood Derby medal I won in fourth grade
  • A souvenir key from Alcatraz, on a trip we took to San Francisco with my stepdad
  • An old letter from a girl I liked when I was 16
  • A rubber cockroach that my middle school science teacher gave me

I don't think about any of these things very often, but when I open the box and take them out, I can remember all over again what it felt like the first time I held them. Touching them now feels like holding hands with my younger self.

You can't hang on to everything, of course. You have to let go of the things that are poisonous, the things that overwhelm your present or that tie you down to a past that you need to outgrow. At the very least, you have to get rid of the things that you don't have room for anymore, just to have enough space to live and breathe. But what is a life if not an acculumation of memories? Some things are worth holding onto, even if the things they represent are small and perhaps inscrutable to someone on the outside.

I like to imagine that some day after I'm gone, my kids or grandkids will go through my things the way I remember going through my grandparents' things after they passed. Finding my box of memories, perhaps there will be some things that they recognize, and others they can only wonder about. Maybe they will make up their own stories for these objects. Or maybe they'll just throw them out. But for at least a little while, they'll be touching these objects that I once touched, and it'll be like we're holding hands again.