Josna Rege

180. The Magic of Found Objects

In 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, Family, Greece, India, Inter/Transnational, Stories, United States on March 15, 2013 at 11:40 pm

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Over the years, hundreds of small found objects—lucky stones, a plastic Highlander, a Swiss army knife—have washed up at my feet. Some of them have held a special symbolic value for me and I have endowed them with a talismanic power; until they have slipped from my hands and fallen somewhere, waiting latent and unseen for the next passer-by, who in turn will slip them into his or her pocket for a spell.

The first of a succession of lucky stones was my most beloved, fished for me out of a shallow cove in the Aegean Sea by a mysterious mer-woman (see Greece in the 60s: Expatriates & Other Animals), and borne by me to India, where I carried it to exams for years afterwards; until it was lost and in due course, another took its place. Thirty years later, on another coastline, I came upon the plastic Highlander washed up on the shores of the Arabian Sea near my father’s ancestral home and bore it back to the United States with me, where it occupies pride of place on a tray of seashells and stones in our bathroom.

The Old North Bridge, Concord, Massachusetts (planetware.com)

The Old North Bridge, Concord, Massachusetts (planetware.com)

Andrew and I found the Swiss army knife on a hillside adjoining the Old North Bridge over the Concord River back in 1975, on the historic 200th anniversary of the American Revolution (see Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Concord Hymn). The People’s Bicentennial Commission, which sought to commemorate and revive the spirit of revolution that had been killed by the wealthy landowning and monied classes, held a concert and campout the night before President Gerald Ford was to arrive by helicopter on April 19th, the date of the battle that sparked the revolutionary war. (Ironically, their logo used the image on the historic Gadsden flag with the coiled rattlesnake, bearing the warning, “Don’t Tread on Me,” re-appropriated a generation later by the extreme right-wing Tea Party, which seeks to revive a very differently-remembered idea of freedom.)

protestors at the Old North Bridge, held back by police (contrariansview.org)

protestors at the Old North Bridge, held back by police (contrariansview.org)

51tKwsDXXrL._SL500_SS500_I can’t remember much of the day except the large crowd, the celebratory spirit, and the 40,000 protestors surging over the Old North Bridge as the President landed. Afterwards, when the tidal wave of people had receded, we stayed behind to help with the clean-up of Buttrick Field, where Andrew picked up a knife from among the debris. It was a fisherman’s knife, with the image of a fish inlaid into the handle and an implement for filleting among its multitude of fold-out tools. We had no way of identifying its rightful owners, so we kept it to commemorate that day, and used it on many a camping trip. We may still have it hidden away at the bottom of a drawer somewhere, but I haven’t seen it for awhile now. Perhaps we accidentally left it behind on the banks of another river, and it has passed into the hands of new owners who treasure it as once we did.

White Pond, Concord (50swims.blogspot.com)

White Pond, Concord (50swims.blogspot.com)

The last object was actually re-found: long given up for lost, it was miraculously restored to me. We were living in Concord, in my in-laws’ cottage perched on the steeply sloping shore of White Pond, a deep and ancient body of water mentioned by Henry David Thoreau in Walden, and reputedly connected to Walden Pond by an underground spring. The pond’s water level fluctuated over the years, so that sometimes the water lapped up under our boardwalk and at other times receded so that there was quite a wide strip of sandy beach. One year, after a swim in the pond, I discovered that I had lost my favorite necklace, a long steely-metallic chain hung with cascades of tiny sequin-like discs that I used to wear looped twice or three times around my neck. After looking everywhere for it, I concluded sadly that I must have dropped it in the water, where it would have sunk irretrievably into the primeval mud that lined the bottom, sixty feet deep in places. Years went by and although I looked for a replacement, I never found another necklace like that one. Then, late one summer, when the water was at a lower ebb than others, I was sitting idly on the boardwalk, dangling my legs over the edge, when I saw something glinting in the sunlight through a crack in one of its loose old planks. Prying up the board, I reached carefully in, thinking perhaps to pick out a jagged piece of broken glass. Imagine my surprise and delight when I found my beloved necklace, a little tarnished, but still amazingly intact after so many years! It had not been lost after all, but had been lying in the shallows under the boardwalk all along, where I must have walked over it a thousand times.

Perhaps I do know why these found objects mean so much to me. Each of them holds within it the luminous spirit of its time and place, and of the people with whom I associate it. My family, having moved so frequently and so far across three continents, has had to leave almost everything and everyone behind every time. Carried in on invisible currents to rest at my feet, these little things, the flotsam and jetsam of my life, are all the more precious to me because I know that they are likely to be swept away as unexpectedly as they came. But while I have them, I hold them close to my heart.

Caz from a Little Learning For Two (alittlelearningfortwo.blogspot.com)

Caz from a Little Learning For Two (alittlelearningfortwo.blogspot.com)

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

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  1. The story of your necklace is a wonderful one, Josna. There’s a parable there. Sometimes the very things we believe to be lost are right there close to us. The lost and found motif is such an archetypal one.Lovely post. Thank you.

  2. Thank you, Don, for your insightful comment. The message was staring me in the face but I hadn’t seen it quite as you put it!

  3. I am sitting right here on the couch next to a glass ox full of objects found on beaches that I have walked in my life. I’m not sure why they all sit there, but they do…thank you for sharing & be well~

    • Things that wash up on beaches far from their places of origin have always held great fascination for me. My plastic bagpiper is one of the things that I treasure because of the story it tells. No doubt many of the objects in your glass ox (hard to imagine what that looks like!) have their own story as well. Thank you for your comment. I’m enjoying each new post of yours, whether poem, prose, or photograph. Happy almost-Spring.

  4. Wonderful story, Josna, and it brings to mind many found, and alas, lost objects. Can’t imagine what it was like to be you on the day the necklace reappeared…without the ability to tell its many stories. (also like the glass ox image 🙂

    • Thank you, Jude. Yes, it is sad to think of all the lost objects–the ones that got away. (But on the other hand, if we didn’t lose some of them, we might not have any space for the ones we have yet to find!) Love that smooth fava-bean shaped stone you found by the Dead Sea. x J

  5. I love this beautiful piece about attachment and impermanence, holding on and letting go, and that spiritual meaning of some objects in our lives. This brings to mind a practice I learned about in New Zealand, where there is beautiful jade to be found. The first piece we find we are supposed to give away. Walking on a beach with a guide and small group of people I didn’t know, I found a lovely jade stone. Allowing myself a few moments of attachment, I gave it to a couple who were walking with us. They seemed to treasure it, and in an instant I felt both the joy and sadness wrought by this powerful tradition.

    • Thank you, Karen. I love it when you tell me what my story is about. I’m never quite sure while I’m actually writing it. I also love that when you gave away the stone as soon as you had found it, you “felt both the joy and sadness” in the same instant, and that both needed to go hand in hand.

  6. I’m not sure why, but the story “spoke” to me. I can’t tell how either yet. All I know is I have this feeling in my chest after reading that I cant shake. My heart obviously knows something my brain doesn’t yet! Maybe it’s just the mystery of it all. Thanks for the read 🙂

    • Thanks, Ted. We all seem to be drawn to mystery. Not sure why, since life is mysterious enough! And yes, we know more than we give ourselves credit for.

  7. Wonderful comments to such an evocative piece. I think of myself as so rational, yet I have these talismans, too, and they really do tug at my heart. I have a little bagpiper, also, but it’s made of molded metal and used to function as my father’s key chain. I don’t carry it around, as I’d hate to lose it, but I like the idea you mentioned, and expanded on by Karen, of having temporary custodianship of these little treasures, and that losing them or giving them away just spreads the magic around. I’ve got a little collection of rocks and shells in my car, picked up from various places. I no longer remember where I got most of them, but still find pleasure in seeing them in my car every day.

    • I’m glad you don’t carry your father’s little bagpiper around, Sarah. Perhaps it goes back to our hunter-gatherer days, this desire to pick up beautiful things and carry them along with us. I have this memory of going to a beach in India with my cousin when he little boy was four. As he walked along the beach, so much closer to the ground than we were, each shell was more beautiful than the last and he kept picking them up and giving them to his mother to hold, so that his hands would be free to go on collecting. Unbeknownst to him, though, she was quietly dropping the shells back onto the sand as he passed new ones to her. I thought it was mean of her at the time, but saw that she couldn’t possibly take so many shells back home with them. And anyway, for him the thrill was in the finding, and he wouldn’t miss the ones he had already passed on.
      Yes, just seeing and feeling these little objects give us inexplicable pleasure. Thank you for your lovely comment.

  8. […] 180. The Magic of Found Objects […]

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