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What is a talisman? One thinks of rattles, fierce masks, human hair – something meant to ward off evil or connect to the underworld. But the dictionary gives another meaning, more general: “anything whose presence exercises a remarkable or powerful influence on human feelings or actions.” The sewing chest made by my grandfather could be considered a talisman, in that it connects me to him, to my grandmother for whom it was made, and to the craft of sewing which she taught me. An odd tea cup, once part of her collection, perches amongst our cups like a changeling, never used, but signaling a past and a different pair of hands. The same can be said for beloved books, pieces of jewelry, for ultimately a talisman is a physical object whose presence among us connects to evanescent memory, to love and to loss, and shapes our views and decisions about ourselves.

My mother now lives in a small room, surrounded by medical equipment necessary for her daily care. Her life has shrunk from that of a creative, productive and social world traveler with hundreds of friends, to a solitary watcher of birds from a wheelchair, occasionally interacting with the kind strangers whose job it is to care for her bodily needs. Such a diminishment is heart rending but, true to her own toughness, she is not defeated. One way she copes is by surrounding herself with some of her favorite objects, Chinese silk artworks, porcelain bird cups, and hundreds of hashioki, the chopstick rests found in most Japanese restaurants which she collected over four decades of travel to Japan. Marvelous in their diversity of style and form, these tiny sculptures are enclosed in a glass table, and resonate for her the adventures she had with my father. Unfortunately, the large table created practical problems in the maneuvering of equipment to assist my mother, so to her disappointment it had to be moved. It now resides in the kitchen where she can still occasionally see and enjoy the hashioki. This compromise provides some measure of comfort.

Many world religions have as one of their tenets a detachment from material possessions, from giving up the world in Buddhism to Christianity’s vows of poverty. The attachment to material possessions is seen as an impediment to higher understanding, serenity, inner harmony, enlightenment, and we have all been encouraged to divest, let go of belongings, and avoid being owned by our possessions. But in quotidian life I have witnessed the depth of peace that can be achieved from the sensitive treatment of a talisman object, and experienced the succor drawn from the possession of a departed loved one. These objects function not on the sacred but the human plane of existence, and are due our recognition, and respect.


©Melody S. Owens, Poets Sinews, 2015. Reuse with permission.