28 July 2008


Somewhere rather early in Walden, Thoreau mentions that he had acquired a stone paperweight which he had placed in the cabin, but soon realized that sitting almost dormant, it acquired dust and required regular dusting. He immediately threw the stone out of the window! Well, actually, I don’t quite recall if he even had a window at that moment in his occupation at the woods at Walden, but in any case, he quickly got rid of the paper weight rather than have to feel obliged to regularly keep it clean.

If the cost of an item was how much life it would take to acquire (and maintain) it, then clearly Thoreau thought this paperweight too expensive; he would be about other business at Walden.

I raise this issue now because my office has been refurbished: a new paint job and new furniture. And in the process, I have packed away some things, filed away others, and apparently misplaced or thrown away even more. What I have seemingly lost are artifacts which chart my progress through this life: some cartoons which I have saved over the years and which held some political and personal significance ( redundancy, I think), some photographs, my original teaching licenses from the states of New York and New Jersey, and other stuff which I cannot remember.

The last statement seems important here: I almost never looked at these artifacts on my wall; they papered the wall silently and unseen. But having those artifacts were to me like windows through which I could look into my past. To change the metaphor, these artifacts were stones on which I could backwards walk into my life. And now they are gone, and I am wondering what it is I have lost. I haven’t lost the past itself; rather, I have lost the stepping stones to it, or, have covered over the windows onto which I would look to the past.

Which brings me back to Thoreau. Other than his books, he suggests to me that he kept nothing about that would tie him to even yesterday. Those papers—and they were all papers—cluttered my wall and too often, perhaps, required attention. They are best tossed out the window, Thoreau suggests. And I no longer have to consider dusting them.

But I wonder: is there a place for sentimentally holding onto possessions? Do I need these weights of paper? What is gained by what is lost?


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