On Talismans


Over time, the meaning of the word talisman has evolved from “a stone, ring, or other object, engraved with figures or characters supposed to possess occult powers and worn as an amulet or charm” to “anything whose presence exercises a remarkable or powerful influence on human feelings or actions.”  I am not a very superstitious person, but over the years I have recognized the power of certain objects to make me feel better about things.  In my rational mind, I know these objects don’t protect me from

Hospital Bear! (I wonder where his pants went...)

harm, but in my heart of hearts, I just want them with me.  To touch.  To make me remember that things will be okay.

Hospital Bear, for instance.  This is a teddy bear we’ve had at the house since Molly was quite small; it was a gift to her from my sister.  A brown bear with a green shirt and blue trousers, he didn’t look as though he particularly belonged in a hospital setting to me–he didn’t seem to be a doctor, nurse, or orderly.  Yet Molly seemed to think so, and when she was sick, she wanted him nearby.  When, the winter she was 13, she spent the better part of a month in the hospital with a staph infection, she wanted him there, too, especially. Molly brought him to me when I was hospitalized with a kidney infection.  She sent him to the hospital again with me when Ben and then Rosalie were born.  She made sure Hospital Bear was packed in Ben’s things when, as a baby, he ended up in an extended visit to the pediatric ICU.  (Rosalie, as the toughest and most healthy of the heathens, has never made a return visit to the hospital, and so Hospital Bear has never had to return with her).  Somewhat tellingly, when my (now ex-) husband was in the hospital for a back operation, he refused the kids’ offer of Hospital Bear–the only one of us who has ever been hospitalized unaccompanied.

Now, I know Hospital Bear had nothing to do with our recoveries from various and sundry ailments.  Still, it was nice–for me, anyway–to wake in the middle of the night with that one thing that made me know someone was thinking of me, and caring that I was in the hospital.  I’m sure, the way Molly kept that bear close during that long January, that she felt the same.  As for the heathens?  They were babies:  perhaps that one stuffed animal did nothing for them, but it did things for me, and for their big sister.  That bear kept us all connected.

I can think of several items that have served as talismans for me over the years.  In those terrible days when I was getting divorced and couldn’t seem to find the energy to do diddly squat, my friend Sandy the Psychic gave me some incense wands smelling of nag champa.  I had longer hair then, and I frequently tucked one of those wands behind my ear (as some people do with pens), so that when I turned quickly, I could smell the scent of it.  For some reason, nag champa was a comforting smell.  I wore those silly things off and on for a long time–on blue days, for instance, in case I needed a whiff of uplift.

I realized, too, that I was carrying a talisman of sorts around all day yesterday.  I’ve had a bad couple of months at work, with things going wrong and all the enjoyment being sucked out of the job.  As I mentioned in another post, I’ve been trying hard to remember that I’m a writer first and foremost–and one of the people who helps me remember that is Stephen Benatar, the British novelist I’m lucky to call my friend.  He writes letters that are full of writer talk:  books and publishing and word choice and signings.  Those letters are chatty and humorous and optimistic and lovely.  And grounding.  When I read, I hear his voice in my head, and his humor and optimism rub off a tiny bit on me.  I remember who I am.  Thus, when I received a letter in the mail the other day after a long drought, I carried it around for hours, without opening it–I had to get all my plebeian concerns out of the way, so I could immerse myself in the ten hand-written pages and savor every word of it.  The next day I took that letter with me to work, and never had it far from my hand, so that if things began to get hairy, I could just reach out and touch the envelope.  That was all–just touch it.  Because that letter’s mere presence exercised a remarkable or powerful influence on my feelings and actions.  It was rather like holding the hand of one of the people who understands me best.  And I was grateful.

Postscript:

Monday was Stephen’s birthday.  Happy day, and happy world, that he is in it.  I am eagerly awaiting his next novel, which he writes is nearly finished.  The Man on the Bridge, my favorite of his books, is due to be re-issued this summer by Capuchin Classics.  I can’t wait for that, either.  He’s invited me to the party.

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