The Things We Carry
A friend recently shared a story her cousin had written about his decision as a young boy to fill his new fly-fishing vest with a “charm” or token from each of his family members. It was a novel little idea that led to his bag of charms growing over the years and coming to represent so much more to him than a way to fill his pockets. I loved this story, and it made me think for a moment about the things we carry. Kristin once told me that her favorite assigned novel in high school was the book The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien’s story of a Vietnam platoon and the tokens each man valued enough to keep with him. As someone who would claim she doesn’t value possessions much, I must confess I am nevertheless passionate about what I would probably call my personal “treasures.” When it comes to the old question about what you would save if the house was on fire, I always say “just the family,” but my heart always hurts for just a moment when I think of the loss of some of the other things I carry. I am a minimalist when it comes to home décor. My house is full of light and space and the view of the outdoors is my favorite interior design element. I find light and room more restful than lovely furniture, art objects, fabrics, paint, or interior accessories. There’s no accounting for personal taste, but this is mine. Thus, it is in the places I allow clutter that you can see what I care about. My home, where it is cluttered, is filled with odd accumulated little treasures—stacks of old books that came from my relatives, stones collected from everywhere that my children or I have been, photos, refrigerator magnets, a sprawling set of blue and white dishes I almost never use that were Grandma’s treat for all our birthday meals, Christmas ornaments, the silver tea service like my mother’s that is oddly out of place in our contemporary home but which she gave each of us as a wedding gift, the two little jade figurines that perched on Grandma’s kitchen windowsill that now live on mine…Joe’s awkward little school pottery projects, every card or letter people I love have ever written me, books…did I say books? And the place where these things find themselves is important too. My kitchen window ledge is completely full—the one place I stand multiple times a day and look and remember. My refrigerator door and the bulletin board I see when I come through the door every night are loaded with memories/photos/quotes/ribbons/tickets and the magnet collection Kristin and I increase each time we travel to someplace we love enough to deem “magnet worthy.” My bookshelves are loaded not only with books but with photos, children’s projects, homemade gifts, or little reminders of places I’ve been. My dresser drawer is stuffed full of writing—letters and notes from Tom and the kids, my own scribbles, quotes or stories I’ve copied. I can’t open it without them falling out, and I open it every day. It should drive me crazy, but it doesn’t. So, yes, even this minimalist loves charms, too. They are those little reminders of the people who matter kept where we can see them every day and think of them every minute. They are not cluttering our lives; they are, in fact, the visible reminders of them. I love my friend’s story of this seventeen year old boy’s charms because he carried them with him…because somehow he knew just as Tim O’Brien’s soldiers did that a little piece of all the people we love is the best accessory we can have.