The Stewardship of Objects
It is mid-October and the buttery reach of the sun through the southern windows of our house is beginning its annual exploration of a tin box that I keep on a bedside table. I rummaged this box out of group of things bound for a charity after the last of our parents passed away.
The box is an old tin candy container from the nineteen twenties, valueless in any monetary sense, but a handsome box and a good size to hold a variety of other things that also have no monetary value but which are important to me; a letter written by one of my children, a valentine picture drawn by another, a dog tag from a pet I had as a child that made away with a piece of my heart, a train ticket stub to Barcelona, a haunted house trinket from Disneyland that my son couldn’t imagine living without, an acorn saved from a day I will always remember, a bill from a small Parisian hotel and a few pictures and other souvenirs that have the ability to warm an otherwise cold winter’s day.
Though I don’t look at the things in the box very often I have learned that when the bolts of the world loosen and I find myself tumbling about, the box and its contents have the ability to provide me with a sense of grounding, of belonging to a time and a place and to people who matter. There are things in our lives that have this power, ordinary, meaningless things to others that have the ability to soothe us by the mere touch of our fingertips on their surfaces.
I have noticed friends who have such personal objects on the shelves of garages alongside their tools, other objects stand watch from cabinets in homes, some are pinned on walls or sitting on tables while other objects provide calm and guidance from the top of a dresser. “This belonged to my mother.” “I found this when I was a boy.” “This was a picture of my daughter and me just before she left for school. “The leaf in the corner is just one I found at the airport.” “Oh it’s nothing; just something a friend gave me that I’ve hauled around since college.” “We used to eat waffles off these dishes every Sunday morning while I was growing up.”
There are faiths and individuals who believe that everything has a spirit even if it is old and useless and that we must therefore console and honor the things that have served us well. In Japanese the term mono no aware translates to “the pathos of things” and “an empathy and sensitivity to ephemra”. It is the term for the awareness and respect for the transient nature of all things in life.
In the northern hemisphere October marks the turning or our attention from landscape to interior, from the sun to fire, from the sand to chair. Nature and darkness herds us out of the forest and inside to our homes and a greater awareness of the objects and rituals in our lives which provide us feelings of comfort.
2nd Tuesday this month is recognizing the place of objects in our lives, both natural and man-made, and their ability to nourish our soul; an old serving bowl or a cup with a chip, sticks and bird nests from the woods turned into art, a disc with music that once made us dance, worn and damaged objects with memories can’t be replaced, the clothing we loved but that we no longer wear.
Join us in a toast to the season ahead while holding the only glass left out of a set.