It’s funny how we assign meaning and even sentimentality to inanimate objects.
Consider the mug shown above: it’s actually quite meaningful to me. So much so that at one point I actually stopped using it for fear of breaking it. As a result, I never saw it and it remained in a relatively obscure location.
Last year I came to the conclusion that that was kinda silly, and placed it back into service.
This morning I realized that it’s not just the mug we set aside for some odd perception of safety and desired permanence.
I purchased the mug at an import shop near the University of Washington at the beginning of my junior year there 1977. (Surprisingly, Shiga’s Imports may still be there, 40+ years later!) That year was also significant because it was the year I met she who would eventually become my wife (on October 7th, to be precise).
I think you can see why the mug has significance. I used it regularly for many years. Aside from the emotional significance, it’s just a good mug – the right size, heft, and feel.
One day as I put it down on the counter I heard a sound. It’s difficult to describe, but ceramic can make an odd noise when it strikes a hard surface if there’s a crack or the beginnings of a flaw. I heard that noise. I thought about it, and decided that I didn’t want to lose the mug. Even though it “worked” just fine, and there were no visible defects, it was time to put it on a shelf for safekeeping.
And there it sat, for perhaps a decade or more.
It’s interesting the things to which we form attachments. I’ll admit that there’s a fork that my parents purchased in Canada before I was born, and a knife, part of a set that I purchased when I moved out of my parent’s home, that have meaning to me. They each represent significant aspects of or points in my life and serve to remind me of those times and events.
But . . . they’re just silverware. It’s just a mug. While they perform their functions well, they are pragmatically quite replaceable. Even if I lost them my memories would remain for as long as I have memories.
I decided putting my mug on a shelf somewhere where I wouldn’t see it, wouldn’t use it, and would barely think of it – possibly until I was long gone myself – was actually counterproductive. Yes, there was a risk of loss, but life is full of risk and loss. I decided that fear shouldn’t dictate my enjoyment and the daily reminder that it — and other things in my life — provide.
The risk of loss
So, the mug’s back in regular rotation, either on my desk slowly being drained of its contents, or next to the coffee machine on the counter (with occasional stops in the dishwasher). Someday it’ll crack, I suppose. Or I’ll drop it. Or something else will happen and it’ll be gone. But I’ll have used it, enjoyed it, seen it, and been reminded by it for the duration.
It’s just a mug.
The bigger question is really this: what else are we, or am I, avoiding because we’re afraid of the loss it might incur? Saying something? Doing something?
Sometimes the risk is real, and the loss can be great, there’s no doubt.
But sometimes we put our dreams, our wishes, and even ourselves on a shelf, never to be looked at until the day we die, out of fear of a loss that isn’t real, or a risk that isn’t nearly as significant as we might think. That, to me, seems a much greater loss.
What’s on your shelf?
And does it really need to be there?
The essay was first published March 7, 2017. As expected, and as predicted, the mug broke a couple of years later.
I have my memories.
And a new mug.