In the Spanish medieval epic, The Poem of the Cid, the hero fights to help his king regain territory lost to the Moors. Like all such epics, the story is mostly battles and bloodshed, except for the moment when, preparing to leave on a raid, the Cid says good-bye to his wife, and the two part \”like the fingernail from the flesh.\”
That was me last night, sorting books to give away in preparation for our downsizing. I was working on the French bookcase, boxing up my high school French books, my college anthologies of French lit., the fusty Old French lays and epics and romances from grad school, and finally the texts I\’d used to stuff all that knowledge back into the heads of my own recalcitrant undergraduates.
With a few exceptions, the books were dusty, since I hadn\’t touched them since our move to Vermont nine years ago. For that matter, I hadn\’t touched many of them since grad school, except to take them down and box them up and then shelve them again at each of our many moves.
But this time is different, because Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre and Roland Barthes won\’t be coming with me. They\’ll be going to new homes or, more likely, to recycling plants, because who wants a bunch of old French books these days? I\’ll be keeping the leather-bound Prousts and Colettes and a few others. But the rest–the yellowed and brittle copies of long-ago works of genius with my maiden name written inside the cover in green ink and the bizarre upright handwriting that I thought distinctive in my youth–I\’ll never see again.
As I forced myself to place each book in the box, it did feel a bit like the fingernail being parted from the flesh, over and over.
Today I\’ll tackle the Spanish and Catalan bookcase. Next will come the art books, and then the dog books, and the country-living books. I must be ruthless and not keep too many of them, because there\’s still three floors of material possessions to sort through, and I don\’t want my independent-living cottage to become a shrine to my past. I must remember that the key to successful aging is flexibility, non-attachment, and a sense of adventure.
I know I\’ll get through it somehow, but by the time this move is over, my fingers will be a bloody mess.