The Mug (Updated)

The Mug

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.

The mug

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

Mug In UseSo, 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?

Being 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?

Update 2021-06-08

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.

5 thoughts on “The Mug (Updated)”

  1. Loved the story Leo.. lots of wisdom in them thar words..I remember such a story about my Dad…as he lay dying from the ravages of Cancer, he was reflecting “out loud”…and wondering what should be done with the beautiful fabric he was saving to get a custom made suit made some day….Some day came and went many times..I am sure he admired the beauty of the fabric and got pleasure from “the plans”…as we all do..but time has a way of slipping by…and like your Mug..the plans get gently tucked away for a more opportune Dad’s guess it never came..he died in his late 60’s after a 12 month whirlwind dance with cancer….he lost his body to be sure..but I have so many memories of is wonderful mind…and through mine, he lives on to me…

  2. Reading this reminded me of something that happened to me. I had a unique mug that had been given to me by my husband. I really liked it but never used it. Left on “display” on the top of our stove. We had a party to celebrate my 50th birthday (15 years ago!) and my dad accidently knocked it off the stove and broke it. He felt absolutely horrible and I kept telling him it was okay; it was just a mug. So my situation was the opposite of yours! I never used it and it end up in the garbage anyway. I do have a bunch of Christmas mugs though that get used all holiday season long!

  3. We moved about three years ago to a much smaller home so we had to unload a lot of things. But we did bring our “everyday” dishes along with our “good” dishes. I don’t recall now what the lightbulb moment was but I remember thinking that I’m almost 75 years old so what the hell am I saving the “good” dishes for? We immediately found a lot of extra room by pitching the “everydays” and using the goods. So far one plate broke but it was replaceable and now we enjoy using the “good” dishes everyday.

  4. I have heaps of these “artifacts” that hang around and drive my French wife wild, as she’s all for clearing out stuff. So, my garage has become my “museum” and my “lurking place”. It holds numerous ancient tools and other “stuff” that belonged to my family, that actually has a lot of associated history. It’s all sentimental… But here in Valbonne, the Côte d’Azur, the outdoors is what interests my wife, so off we head mornings for walks in the wild. That’s actually what keeps me alive I think… Leo, come to France and get a new mug !

  5. I’m sending a cartoon that says it all about getting old…..
    I lied no I’m not so I will set the scene and tell the you the action parts:
    Two elderly men sitting on a park bench- First man says “At our age which would you rather have, Parkinson’s
    or Alzheimer’s?” The second man replies “Parkinson’s. Better to spill an half once of scotch than to forget were
    you keep the bottle”.

    When you retire don’t try so hard any more but love your grand-children even more.

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