I am surrounded by memories. The subway ticket from Chicago, mint tins, piles of books, my rock and beach glass collection, small wooden turtles from Mexico, and notes on the walls that remind me of events that have long passed and math equations I no longer need are all reminders of my past. They are proof of experiences that I’ve lived through and are physical continuations of the past. I always hesitate to throw anything out because I instinctively know that that receipt from the take-out place may now only be a worthless piece of paper, but, in a few years, it will be a portal to a memory of a very good day spent exploring a beautiful city. Humans, because they are such visual creatures, have a very strong attachment to objects, and I’m no different. We define ourselves largely through our material possessions. All that we own make up a small part of us, and, when one of these little pieces are lost, a small part of our identity dies.
I once owned a scientific calculator named Pete for about five years. He was of the Casio FX 115ES breed, and he has a very special place in my heart. He was there for me when I struggled with simple algebraic equations, and watched me thrive as I slowly gained confidence in Math through my high school years. We learned Trigonometry and studied functions together. He was patient with me as I attempted to type in complicated Chemical equations and wasn’t upset with me when I blamed him for giving me wrong answers. I spent long summer days with Pete studying for the SAT (a standardized test in the US), and we celebrated together when we received a perfect score. Towards the end of Pete’s time with me, there was dust between the keys and some of the symbols had started to wear off, but I didn’t care: Pete was going to be with me forever, I thought, until one day, I lost him.
It took me a while to fully accept that he was gone, and when I did, I felt a big hole in my soul. Pete had represented a significant part of my academic career. He was associated with so many memories, had served as an anchor to the past, and represented a continuity through time. Now a small part of my past became just a little less certain. Pete had transcended the plastic and metal that he was made up of. He wasn’t just a calculator. He was Pete.
I believe that a major reason why humans attach so much value to certain objects is because of our selfish desire to make the world work for us. Just like it may be difficult for us to believe that waiters at restaurants don’t really care if we have a good meal or not, or that the rain didn’t decide to descend upon the earth for the very purpose of thwarting our plans, it may be difficult for us to fully recognize that our phones are just metal and glass or that our favorite T-shirts are just pieces of fabric. We start to develop humanistic connections with some objects because, somewhere in the depths of our minds, we think that these objects care about us. We are just that flawed. Someone once told me that humans can’t truly think about the world from a scientific perspective, and won’t truly accept that everything is composed of atoms. Reality distorts in our minds. Teddy bears are friends. Books become our closest advisors. Calculators have human names and traits.
I have had so many meaningful objects throughout my life that define who I am as a person. Old ballet shoes laced with the pain of having to quit dancing, old and worn-out jeans with events and experiences weaved into the fabric, wooden turtles that envelope me in nostalgia, and artwork that my hands have created years ago all mean so much to me. The fact that simple objects are able to evoke such profound emotions and transport our minds to places buried so deeply under the fabric of time is truly an amazing part of the human experience.
The photograph above shows some of the objects that are very meaningful to me. This one photograph is filled with so many memories, yet all it shows is a couple of ordinary things. I might write a post about some of these in the future, but feel free to ask about any of them.