the things we leave behind

the things we leave behind

On the streets of Antigua Guatemala, February 2015 © JL Colomb

It’s afternoon.  We’ve been walking the streets of a foreign city for hours, taking pictures and talking and absorbing our environment for hours. The lighting in the city is surreal.  Clouds migrate above us while the stone streets and plaster walls glow.  We come upon a street corner and there, carefully placed upon a ledge, is a used doll. I love things like this.  Her face is smudged, and her little pink jumper suggests a state of undress.  The absurdity of this trinket – reeking of a kind of innocence left in a place that is hard, effervescent with life and all its requisite hope and desperation, its meager achievements and monumental failures – appeals to me.

I don’t know what the doll’s story is.  Perhaps a child dropped it, and some well-meaning stranger discovered it and left it in the most protected place they could so the thing could be recovered.  Maybe it was thrown in rage, or simply left as a sort of goodbye to a past, which has no shape in the future.  In any case, there is this discarded thing, disconnected and waiting.  But material possessions are not the only things we leave behind.

We abandon habits, people, and beliefs. Friends, lovers, childhoods and visions of the future.  I’m chagrined to think that I have left people to the past, that I have few vestiges of family history. It galls me and at the same time it has very little importance.  As appalling the notion is that things with inherent intrinsic value can be cast aside, it is also necessary.  Life is a process of acquiring and discarding. Destroying and rebuilding or building from new.  This is true for our physical environments, our bodies and also our psychological and spiritual selves.

People, thoughts, bits of knowledge, beliefs, and other things in our lives serve a purpose in our development.  Like a tank of gas, they carry us to a certain point until they are spent.  Maybe we are grateful for the territory covered.  Maybe not.  But it is our journey, and these things we leave behind have given us shape and meaning.  We would not be who we are and where we are without them.  And when the time and the reasons are right, like a doll left on a ledge, it is okay to let them go.

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