As 2020 grinds to a close (and if you’re like me, you cannot wait for this unmitigated disaster of a year to finally be behind us) we find ourselves in the final season of the year – List Season.

The best albums of 2020. The most unforgettable pictures of 2020. The 12 wildest aviation stories of 2020. The 25 sexiest shows streaming on Netflix. The 50 best-selling Amazon products of 2020. One could make a list of lists.

Some people make lists of New Years resolutions – I’ve always felt like it creates an unnecessarily stress-filled January. We need some down-time after the flurry of year-end holidays, not a directive!

But I wanted to make a list today, one that I think will help me. Last week I alluded to a heartbreaking discovery. Last week, as we were set to decorate our tree, we discovered that we were missing our Christmas bin.

Let me take a step back. As much as I try to practice non-attachment, I can’t help my predilection for memorabilia. Over the years, I’ve collected things that remind me of a trip or a concert or a special occasion. It could be anything – a ring from an outdoor market, a decorative tile from an artist’s studio, a scarf from a favorite foreign department store, a program booklet, a printed menu, a tiny pin, a smooth river stone, a hotel key card.

I have also collected Christmas ornaments since childhood. Not necessarily anything fancy, just annual reminders of that particular holiday season. After my father’s death in 2001, my mother wanted to downsize her own considerable collection of decorations, and so I took a few dozen ornaments that were meaningful to me. I remembered some of them from the first Christmas trees we had in our first house in Hawaii, many decades ago. I had a whole collection of holiday memories, from early childhood until the present.

I think you might see where this is going.

All of these ornaments, along with some other holiday memorabilia (from childhood and more recent) were in a special bin. The bin that is missing.

Yes, we tore the apartment apart. No, we didn’t find it. Yes, it was the victim of the hasty (Covid unemployment-related) move we made in August.

Yes, I cried for two days.

I know that memories stay in our hearts, and the warmth of the good ones cannot be taken away. Their very existence is permanent. They live within us, are woven into our beings. I also know that tangible reminders of those memories – like, say, Christmas decorations – can evoke images and feelings in a powerful way, take us back to a moment viscerally. Sometimes objects are portals into the past, a crucial aid to memory.

Losing an object does not obliterate a memory, but it does make it less easily accessible. And some objects can unearth memories hidden deep beneath the surface, allowing us to access emotions that were otherwise hidden. So you can understand how losing my bin of decorations felt like losing a well-worn path to a lifetime of holiday memories.

So. My bin may be gone, but I have a memory of the contents themselves. So, in the spirit of List Season, I made a list of all of the decorations I could remember. I thought I’d share some of them with you.

A Hawaiian Santa, in a grass skirt, paddling an outrigger canoe

An angel in a white robe tied with a blue ribbon, a wreath in his hair, blowing a trumpet

A white goose in a brown apron and blue bonnet

A red Pysanka Ukrainian Easter Egg ornament hung with a red ribbon

A folk-motif painted blue pig (yes, I know, a lot of these ornaments are a little unconventional)

A silver filigree bell from my American grandmother

A pair of blown-glass wrapped candy-shaped ornaments

A Santa in a Hawaiian shirt sitting under a palm tree with Rudolph, one of my father’s favorites

A trio of caroling girls, bought at a Christmas fair in Prague

A collection of Hawaiian angels, their bodies and wings made of coconut tree husk, heads made of kukui nuts, made by an elderly neighbor when I was 7

A Rudolph made from clothespins, picked up at a school holiday fair

A picture ornament of my brother and I at 6 and 4, me with missing front teeth, my brother in green shorts

A felt Christmas wreath ornament I made when I first learned to sew – it was overstuffed and looked more like a green bagel that a wreath, but my mother pretended to love it

A pair of ornaments featuring two dogs we owned previous to Pinkerton – Sieglinde the mutt, and Bamse the German Shepherd – made of photos pasted onto cardboard and adorned with glitter glue, from the very early years of our marriage when we barely had the funds to pay our bills, much less buy Christmas ornaments

They are all gone.

Each year, there is more of life behind me than there is ahead, and the tendril of memories that stretches into the past grows more drawn out, thinner. The memories once firmly grasped, loosen imperceptibly every year, some sifting like sand out of a hand. The images lose their color, become sepia-toned, lose focus. It’s the way of things.

Life necessitates an acceptance of loss, finding peace with endings and undesired outcomes. And as this tumultuous year comes to a close, I continue my quiet work to find equanimity in gently letting go.

8 thoughts on “Lists

  1. Allen Miller says:

    So sorry for your loss. A few years ago I threw out a bin of Christmas decorations, lights, ornaments, etc. that I thought we were getting rid off during a move. My wife still reminds me of my stupidity every Christmas for that blunder.


  2. Wayne Zelenak says:

    Sarah, I can relate to your loss. When we moved a few years ago, I lost a photo album with many memories caught in photos. In my library in the basement, I have many books and I’ve searched for it for years, it’s gone. But I have found a virtual friend who shares her emotions with stories we’re all familiar with. I have a firestick that allows me to share some of your stories, concerts, interviews, and musicians. It seems we both share the same family of composers, musicians, celebrities, that are available on the internet.

    Last week, I was shoveling snow (something absent in San Francisco) and a man approached me riding a bicycle. He stopped and we discussed music. He is a music teacher at the Westminister Conservatory at Rider University and he writes music. Today, I found a DVD with a concert and the music he wrote for the program.

    I am a believer that people are in your life for a purpose to help us through the times of trouble and to share our passion in times of joy. I’ve learned things from you and shared some of our mutual issues. I watched your interview on “The Jason Show” yesterday, recorded a few months back.

    With respect to loss and tragedy, you taught me a word a while back that resonates in time of loss. “Shoganai”, is an important Japanese philosophy that teaches that some things are out of our control, and to recover, we need to quickly accept our fate and move on. Life is full of challenges and we both seek the equanimity of letting go and at the same time growing and sharing our stories.



  3. We had our own long list of special things to hang on each year’s tree, but the one I remember and treasured most was a little figurine of perhaps a butler or a maître d’ (we debated that and other occupations) that had been hand made and painted, was handed down from great-grandparent days in the mid-1800s until a few years ago when it was dislodged from its firry perch and came to a fractured demise. The grief lasted for weeks.


  4. Hi Sarah. It’s a sad story but a touching one. It proves that things don’t have to be expensive to remain in our memory. Thanks for sharing this story, La Maestra. We wish to you, Paul, Pink, your mom, your bro and beloved ones Health, Happiness & Prosperity for 2021.
    – Sylvain on behalf of Anite, Lynda & Denis (he wanted to join in for that post. He said to me: say to the Maestra that you pronounce my name like ‘the-nee’ and not ‘then-nis’. I reply to him: Geez man she knows that already.). xx xx xx xx


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