A Ritual of Letting Go


There are a collection of beach stones in my home: lining windowsills, filling a copper pot, drawn in a circle around a fragile sea urchin shell. The faded apricot ones from Block Island were acquired at my last attendance of the Block Island Poetry Project, with Billy Collins, as King of the Weekend and Words. There are orange, black, and white speckled ones from Boom Beach on Isle au Haut; the Maine island our family visited annually for a decade plus. These stones and a cache of shells are indelibly linked with the smell of bayberry bushes warmed by the sun and monarchs fluttering around swaths of milkweed. All objects, images, and senses that anchor me to islands and family memories. And then we have an array of grey, black, and white stones from many beaches, including our local one in Shelburne, Vermont. From there, the Adirondack mountains can be viewed across the blue expanse of Lake Champlain, often awash in color rich sunsets or draped in clouds.

The images of these stones arise when ruminating about decluttering our home. I want to gather them up in batches, feel their weight, and disperse them in new ways, for other purposes. In doing this, I could practice renewal, an act of making changes that symbolize the redistribution of accumulated heft and history. I imagine them in the perennial gardens covering spaces created from winterkill. Or lining the boundary between the sweep of lawn and garden soil, supplanting the unattractive, brown strip that marks these borders now. Or simply returned to the homecoming of earth, freed. Freed, as I long to be freed.

For years, I have longed to sift and sort through each room in our home and let go of what no longer serves or brings joy. Perhaps over time, creating space for something fresh or reveling in less. Each time, the urge has been thwarted by the fullness of daily commitments, the difficulty of discerning value and purging.

The urge to let go parallels a similar longing regarding my relationships expressed in work, family, and friendships. I no longer care to do anything out of habit, out of the weight of history or legacy. These stones represent the tension point between beauty and ballast; the former capturing sweet memories, the latter dust covered memorabilia. At 57, I have vested time and energy into various relationships and endeavors. Some of these have nurtured me deeply, carved me open, and infused growth. Some of them have been burdens, caretaking experiments, unconscious recreations of the past, painful reminders of what doesn’t work or serve. The last, hollow or heavy vessels of replication.

Later today, I will gather the stones in a large wicker basket, my palm embracing their cool smoothness, the dust swept away in transition. I will give thanks for their presence, their place-holding. Then I will listen carefully to my intuitive, inner voice. A knowing guide that has sometimes been muted by the endless, external noise, and scraps of self-doubt. And from this awareness, I will give the weight of history and stones new purposes or release them.

Each of us honored; each of us freed.


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