The Stewardship of Objects
The Stewardship of Objects
BY Fred Swan · January 2, 2019
It is the beginning of January and the low reach of the sun through the southern windows of our house is beginning its morning exploration of a 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 things that, like the box, also have no monetary value but which are important to me; a letter written by one of my children, a Valentine card drawn by another when he was in the third grade, 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 a winter’s day.
Though I don’t look at the things in the box very often I have learned that when the bolts of my world loosen and I begin to tumble about, the contents of the box have the ability to provide me with a sense of gravity and history, and belonging to a place and to people who matter.
There are objects in our lives that have this power, ordinary, meaningless things to others that have the ability to soothe us and transport us, and that make unseen contacts with people and animals by the mere touch of our fingertips on their surfaces.
I have 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 January marks the mid-point of our having turned our attention from landscape to interior, from the sun to fire, from the sand to chair. Nature and darkness have for several months herded us out of the forest and to inside to our homes and to a greater awareness of the objects and rituals in our lives which provide us feelings of comfort.
While looking through the box the other day I took some of the objects out. We have a tray on an ottoman in our bedroom upon which we keep candles and flowers and it seemed a natural place, for a few days, to place the acorn, one of the drawings, a tiny box that holds my grandfather’s ring, and my old dog’s tag. I was so drawn to this gathering that I decided to gather some other objects onto a tray to keep a sense of the holidays going into the coming month. . As a new monthly feature in 2nd Tuesday I’ve decided to explore the potential of these collections – like altars in a sense – and will present photographs, ideas, and explore the place of objects in our lives, both natural and man-made, and their ability to nourish our soul. I’ve explored through the creation of what I will be calling the exploration the Realm of Objects. Some may prefer the term altar (as they might have themselves), others I suppose could think of them as table decorations – I don’t know – let’s see where this ideas goes. Aren’t the moments that nourish our spirits the best things to have?