Late Thursday night, when I routinely emptied my pockets onto my nightstand, I felt a sickly wave of sadness sweep over me when I realized that I had lost my special rock.
I have (or, I suppose I should say, had) a special rock that had, for the last three years, resided in the right hand pocket of any pair of jeans, slacks or shorts that I wore during that period of time. This little flat black stone has tremendous sentimental value and is now, I suspect, somewhere in the city of Portland, ME, where I spent my afternoon and evening this past Thursday.
I even called Andy’s Old Port Pub, where I had performed that night, to ask if they found it on the floor anywhere. No dice.
What puzzles me more than the fact that it went missing is the depth and extent of my distress over its loss.
After I left my dark years in Fryeburg in 2010, some of the many things that were never returned to me include: irreplaceable photo albums containing nearly every photograph I’ve ever owned of my parents, every photo of my birth, childhood, young adulthood, every vacation and road trip; my junior high and high school yearbooks, complete with all of the etchings and noodlings from friends and teachers; and even my scrapbooks, containing chronicles of every single public performance of mine from the age of six upward through adulthood; and to this day I still have no certain knowledge of the whereabouts of these objects. To think that someone (my ex) could hate me enough to keep these things from me stirs a rage in me that I sometimes fight with some difficulty not to express. These objects are, for lack of a better word, sacred to me, and the fact that they remain outside of my reach or even my knowledge is one of the deepest sources of despair in my life.
In the wake of this terrible loss, I had thought I’d tempered my tendency to become so attached to objects.
Isn’t it amazing how important material things are and become?
Just a little over a week ago, I was at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. This incredible place is the home of many venerated objects: Johnny Cash’s trademark black suit; Cindy Walker’s typewriter; Elvis Presley’s gold Cadillac.
Around the corner from the Hee Haw display of set dressings and costumes, there was a small glass-encased corner dedicated to the hired hand studio session musicians who, many uncredited, appeared on countless hit country records. Behind the glass stood an eighteenth century Italian upright bass that had been used on many of these recordings.
“Wow, can you imagine how amazing this thing must sound?” Shawn exclaimed. “It’s a shame that it’ll never be played again.”
And his statement hovered over me for the entire rest of our visit, as we gazed wistfully at so many more forever-silenced instruments: Ralph Stanley’s banjo; Elvis Presley’s gold piano; Bill Monroe’s mandolin; Hank Williams’ acoustic guitar.
There is certainly something to be said for the reverence that humans pay to objects that were once owned by fellow mere mortals who used those objects to create masterful and transcendent art. To glance, say, at Hank Williams’ Martin D-28 and to marvel at the end to which he wielded that guitar is to be in touch with a giant piece of history – but then, to me, the much more salient and immediate experience of this epiphany is to sit down and listen to the recordings he made with it – to hear the thing bark and sing and resonate along with his quivering yet confident voice.
I sometimes worry what will happen to my old Gibson, the one that was my father’s. That guitar means the world to me. I would be devastated if something ever happened to it. And yet – here I am (and likely to remain) a childless woman. To whom will it be entrusted when I die? It is a morbid and serious (and necessary) question that no doubt has an answer which, at this moment, remains out of my reach.
I should hope that my father’s guitar wouldn’t ever end up encased in glass, but rather that it will continue to serve its true purpose – to be a bringer of music and, I hope, joy to others.
Speaking of which – I hope someone does find my little lucky black rock. Retracing my steps through the hallways of Maine Medical Center to visit a friend and the aisles of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, I realize that wherever it is found will probably be an unlikely spot to locate such a thing (unless I lost it on a street or in a parking lot). Perhaps a child will see it and pick it up. It does have a special sheen to it in a certain light – one of the many things I love about it. I always wanted to skip that rock on a still pond or lake – it was perfect for that. It was a “keeper” as my dad always called such stones.
Or perhaps it will get kicked down the street, into some forgotten corner, to find itself worn away over the millennia by the harsh elements, returning to the earth from whence it came.
Charles Bukowski said that we are “terrorized and flattened by trivialities.” Perhaps my stone, my guitar, my family photos, Loretta Lynn’s dresses, are all trivial and, in the grand scheme of things, not that important.
What are important, it seems now, are memories. I still remember my parents. I still remember many of my birthday candles, my angst-filled high school days, my very first piano recital and how terrified I was. I still remember the day that Shawn put that little black stone in my hand when we were first dating, before he even knew that I collected rocks. And I still remember the first time I ever played that old Gibson, under my father’s direction and guidance, when I was twelve years old.
I guess the key is to be ever mindful of what is truly worth cherishing and remembering.
In the words of Mary Oliver:
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.