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Deaccession

This is a year of deaccession for me. Libraries and museums use the word deaccession to mean gleaning from their collections. I’ve been sorting through clutter; two weeks ago I sent the Newberry Library 22 cartons of letters, manuscripts and miscellaneous papers. I’ve been going through books, and discarding clothes I never wear.

I just got back from visiting my beloved friend, the writer Dorothy Salisbury Davis. Dorothy has been an important mentor to me as a writer and a person for more than 25 years. She’s 96 now, and not strong, but her mind is as vibrant and tough as ever. I realized during the time we were together that she has been deaccessioning in a way that makes me think deeply about life and aging. Two years ago, she moved from the old farmhouse, where her husband, the actor Harry Davis, and she had lived for half a century.

Dorothy's house

Dorothy and Harry’s old farmhouse

She moved into an assisted living facility, which she has treated as a new stage on the road, rather than a situation to be fought against. She had to stop driving, which was among her passions, but she said she doesn’t miss her car, as she thought she would. She doesn’t miss the house; I confess I do. She husbands her strength for the things that truly matter to her.

It frightens me, the thought of unweaving myself from the many threads that connect me to the Now, and it frightens me to watch her do it. Yet here, as so many times in the last 25 years, I listen to her, hope I am learning from her, hope that when my ride up the escalator is drawing to an end, I will know what to hold, what to let go, and let those things go with her grace.

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