“Keeping and Letting Go,” May 28, 2018

What do you want to keep and what do you want to let go? That’s high on my list of Life’s Hardest and Most Important Questions. I am forever trying to answer it. Especially lately.

Next week, total strangers will bring a truck to our door and haul off everything we own. Except the clothes on our backs, the car we will drive 500 miles to our new home, and as much stuff as we can pack in it.

It’s called moving. Some people, God bless them, do it often. For others, like me, it’s a rare and sobering adventure. In all my adult years (never mind how many) I’ve moved only three times.

My first husband and I moved into our first house with a bed, our clothes and a few wedding gifts. The next day, I went to a resale shop to look for a dining room table. Instead, I bought an old bench that had seen better days as a church pew. It cost $20. When my husband saw it in our empty dining room, he winced and said, “I’ll refinish it.”

“No,” I said, “it tells stories.”

That was a lifetime ago. Over the years, I packed that house to the roof with three children, a few dogs and enough assorted stuff to furnish a subdivision.

Then the kids grew up, we lost their dad to cancer and I began to learn about letting go.

First, I let go of the illusion of being in control. Life isn’t about being in charge of what happens. It’s about being in charge of what we do with it.

Next, I let go of putting off until “tomorrow” things I care most about: Keeping in touch; saying I love you; being truly and fully aware and alive.

I let go of the kind of people who cling to anger or hatred, and tried instead to surround myself with those who shine with kindness and grace.

Finally, I let go of being alone. And then, when I fell in love, remarried and moved out of state with my new husband, I let go of more stuff than I kept: Clothes I liked, but couldn’t wear again unless I lost 20 pounds. Dishes I never used and never would. Toys my kids loved, but didn’t love enough to take with them when they left.

After that move, I swore I would never again amass meaningless possessions. But 12 years later, here I am, still learning about letting go.

Yesterday, while cleaning out a dresser, I sorted through an old box of keepsakes. Among the many things it held were:
_ A flower-shaped brooch my grandmother wore that is now speckled with rust.
_ A photo of my dad before he left to fight the Nazis in WWII.
_ A toy pistol I was given by my college dormmates to help me “keep order” after they elected me dorm president.
_ A letterman patch presented by a coach (my late husband) and his team in honor of my “contributions” to their winning a championship. (I had washed their sweaty towels.)
_ And a poem by Anonymous: “When I’m dead I hope it’s said, her sins were many, but her columns were read.”

Nothing in that box may mean much to anyone, except me. But keepsakes are treasures for the memories they preserve. We keep them, hold them close and never want to let them go.

That’s why I keep that bench, for its history, the stories it tells me, all the people and moments and happiness it recalls. It’s a keepsake that won’t fit in a box. I’ll ask the movers to take good care of it next week when they move it back into a house where it sat for more than 30 years.

We will all move someday from this world to the next. And we won’t need a truck to do it. We’ll take nothing with us and leave behind a memory of the life we lived, the mistakes we made, and all the love and kindness and grace we tried to show.

That memory might not be a treasure in the eyes of the world.

But maybe, if we’re lucky, someone will keep it and hold it close and never let it go.


  1. Dear Sharon,
    I can’t believe you replied so soon. I have seldom checked my e-mail box recently because in China, we use WeChat (something like twitter ) a lot. Apology for my delay.
    Something in your reply truly enlightened me: the power of telling stories. It really helps us know who we really are and where we want to go. You are right. As a teacher, it is my task to inspire my students to explore their inner self and in return to improve their English in some ways. And I believe your children and thier father did it better than me with your encouragement.
    Teaching is tough sometimes, but as you said, I need to have better idea for communicating with my students. Communiaction is important. Maybe I failed to keep in touch with my students. That’s why I feel puzzled.
    Thank you again for your generosity of sharing your life with us. Constantly telling stories every week for more than 20 years—-That’s huge. Hope I have such persistence in education as you.
    Wishing all the very best to you and your family.

    Jiang Xin

  2. I am an English teacher in High School in China. We select this piece as a reading material. But maybe it’s tough for a teenager to understand the keeping and letting go in life. Do you have any suggetsions on teaching? Waiting for your reply.

  3. Can’t help crying .Being touched deeply of your stories.

  4. Kate Sciacca says

    So I was sitting at my kitchen table, listening to the wind chimes and feeling pretty down… I’d just received a phone call from a gal at the Hampton Inn asking about our “final room count for the wedding…”. I guess she didn’t get the memo…

    Anyway, while the tears were falling I thought “what can I do to cheer myself up?” “I know! I will check out Sharon’s column!” So I did… and my blurry eyes fell upon these words:

    “First, I let go of the illusion of being in control. Life isn’t about being in charge of what happens. It’s about being in charge of what we do with it.”

    Oh my oh my… did I need to read those words! Thank you.

    • Robyn A Mixon says

      Oh goodness, Sharon. Your last two columns really went right to my heart. I love getting your take on life’s challenges and adventures, big and small and find they define so much in my life as well. Many thanks for all your writing gifts from the heart. Much love. Safe move. Happiness always.

  5. Jack Arnold says

    I hope that you are moving closer to Monterey!
    God bless you for all the hearts and minds you fill with hope and joy!

  6. Pam Dailey says

    So glad you kept the bench.

  7. Dick Daniel says

    As I started reading this, I thought there may have been a different outcome. So glad you kept the bench.

  8. Jill Leach says

    Safe Travels! Think you are moving closer to children/grandchildren? Always a blessing! Also–think we live on the same Peninsula! I have loved reading your column over the years and the spirit felt while reading. You keep it “real” and give the readers much to think about!

    Maybe see you around town 🙂

  9. james walter peterson says

    Ms. Randall,

    What wonderful thoughts for us to read. Enjoy the move.


  10. Cathy Followell says

    You just gave my old heart strings a mighty tug with this one! So many times I find that you write the very words that I would write to describe a situation or life event. You are a genuine lady with a good heart. Thank you for being you and always remaining true to yourself and to those of us who look forward to the next story! We are all so blessed to have a treasure like you. Take care…moving is hard!!

  11. Phyllis Pilewski says

    I read, love, and usually relate to all of your columns, but this one may be my favorite!

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