On the table before me, I have four broken rosary beads, six funeral crucifixes, two Blessed Mothers, one with a broken head and one without an arm, and Jesus without an eye. Don’t ask. It’s a long story. The point is, what to do with all of this stuff? I’m not even a practicing Catholic anymore. Another long story.

I’m not like my Aunt Mamie with the Sacred Heart on all the bedroom walls, or Mrs. Geitner, a humorless German woman I was boarded with for a time as a child. For reasons that no one could understand, Mrs. Geitner featured a huge portrait of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian on her dining room wall, complete with arrows and blood. As we ate dinner each night, my chair faced the painting, as I tried to swallow Mrs. Geitner’s husband’s favorite dish: boiled beef tongue. True story.

But as many of you know, when you’re raised by the Sisters from birth to sixth grade, you belong to that “thing” for the rest of your life. Avid fans of crime legends know that the real name of the Mafia is Cosa Nostra, or “this thing of ours.” Well, It’s like that. It’s exactly like that.

Once in, there is no way out. It’s not just Catholic. My Jewish friends know exactly what I mean. Physically, you can walk away and denounce everything, become an atheist or a Republican. You can run to the end of your days, beat your chest and bellow your opposition, but you can’t hide. Emotionally, the hook is in. There is a part of your brain that is owned by the good Sisters. They knew what they were doing when they drummed those stories into us. I can’t prove it, but there is a rumor that the Chinese Communists learned about brainwashing from a certain order of nuns. I made that up, but something in me thinks it’s true.

Somewhere deep inside of us, or out there in the fog of the past, it glows like one of those little candles in the tiny red glasses on the altar. You can huff and puff, but you can’t blow it out. It’s that “thing.”

So here I am, on a sunny cold November day, opening a drawer and a door at the same time. The drawer is to an old desk where I shove everything I don’t want to throw out at any particular time. The door is to the past, to my “thing.”

No Catholic boy or girl, lapsed, disconnected, disavowed or defrocked, ever throws a broken crucifix into the trash, not even if it’s in six pieces. You can glue it back together or just shove it in a drawer, but it’s not possible to dump it in the trash.

These crucifixes, that’s another problem. In some families, when the old ones pass away, there are crucifixes that are put on the casket. The bereaved take them home with them and hang them on the wall, or just put them in a drawer. I have only one from my family, but she, who still belongs to her “thing,” has several collected from the caskets of her lost ones, and here they are in this drawer.

A brief explanation: To most “ordinary” Christians, a cross is two pieces of wood put together to symbolize Christianity. But when the figure of Jesus hangs on these two pieces of wood, it’s a crucifix. It might be possible, for some, to discard a cross that is broken. It’s just two pieces of wood, right? But a crucifix with Jesus hanging on it, especially a Jesus with those eyes that follow you around the room? That’s a keeper. Even if you have one with an eye missing, it’s a keeper.

So I gather all the pieces and return them to the drawer. Someday perhaps, my children or grandchild will find the desk in the attic, and the drawer full of these sacred totems. What they do with them is none of my affair. My hands are clean. It’s on their souls now.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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