Possession is nothing; memory is everything.
As I was preparing to move into a new apartment (in the same building) a few years ago, I came upon a perfect rock. I was out walking and the rock was sitting on a brick wall, waiting for me. Just a river rock, one of the rounded pieces of basalt that are used for landscaping around the courtyard of the small complex.
But this one was special because its proportions were so even. It was an egglike ovoid, smooth and seemingly perfect. It did not bulge, nor were there dips or pits in its smooth surface. I had a vision of figuring a way to measure it, to see if it was a perfect as I thought. That was a silly idea, but I picked up the rock and found that it was hard and warm in my hand, a perfect size. I loved that rock.
I placed it on a windowsill in the kitchen where I could see it every day. Then I went back to packing in the apartment I was leaving.
The women who came to clean and paint the new apartment threw away everything that had been left behind. They found my rock on the windowsill and tossed it.
I mourn that rock. I think of it from time to time, not obsessively, but with a bit of sorrow. I’ve tried to explain this loss to others. “For God’s sake, Mom,” one daughter said bracingly, “It’s just a rock.”
But I lost more than a thing. I lost my glimpse of perfection. I can’t explain it. I see perfection every day, in the cast of light on a tomato in the kitchen, in the clearness of a cat’s eye, in the deep scarlet-streaked ivory throat of the rhododendron blossom I mistakenly thought was merely white, in the form of bare trees against the winter sky. Every day, I breathe the perfection of the universe.
The rock, how was it different? Its perfection was geometrical, mathematical, measurable, substantial, enduring. It neither withered nor wore once it was removed from the river. Maybe it wasn’t perfect. I never had the chance to really examine it in an exacting way. Maybe the possibility of its perfection is better as a memory.
Possession is nothing. Memory is everything. But loss—loss is also real.