I was talking to my car the other day, and I think someone overheard me. I was embarrassed for a minute, but then realized I didn’t really care–my car is special to me, and I had missed it while it was at the dealership being serviced. Maybe I talk to inanimate objects more often than most people because I live by myself. Still, I’m pretty sure most people interact with “things” that are special to them, whether that takes the form of talking to objects (like a car or a stuffed animal) or touching something in a meaningful way (like a musical instrument or an heirloom). We’re probably hesitant to admit things are important to us, whether we’re worried it makes us seem a little crazy, because we don’t want to be viewed as materialistic, or because we know physical objects will ultimately pass away (“you can’t take it with you”). There are points to consider in all of the above, but I’d like to offer a different thought–that inanimate objects can be important reminders of intangible truths.
I’ll start with the example of my car. My car is important to me because it takes me places. That sounds like something an elementary school student would write, but it’s true. My car goes most everywhere I go. I was so sentimental about my first car, because it was with me in all kinds of times and places–back and forth from home to college, moving to my first place and my first job, through changes in relationships. My car was a constant when so much else was changing–as “faithful” as molded metal, cloth, and plastic can be. It was hard to part with my first car when the time came, but it wasn’t the car itself that made me emotional… it was what it represented to me: a faithfulness and stability that pointed me towards God’s truly unfailing presence and provision in every situation.
As another example… I’d imagine most any musician would readily confess the feelings they have for their personal instruments. I’m not an especially talented musician, but that doesn’t change the attachment that I have to my parents’ piano. Learning an instrument requires a good deal of practice, which means time… and when you spend time with someone or something, you get attached. Playing my parents’ piano is both comforting and poignant in the way it connects me with my past (the joyful and the difficult) and involves me in music in a way that points me towards someone greater. (I elaborated more on this in my post Making Your Heart Sing
If neither of these examples resonate with you, just think of someone you love–particularly someone you are separated from, whether by time or death or distance–and think of something that reminds you of that person and the time you have spent with him or her. The object itself is meaningless, but the reminder full of connection and meaning.
As I said in the introduction, there’s all kinds of ways that we need to be careful about the value we assign to inanimate objects. I’m only starting my thought process on this, but I think a general principle would be to watch that the objects don’t become more important to you than the reason they’re important to you in the first place (i.e., a treasured letter from a friend shouldn’t be more important to you than the relationship with the friend). Beyond that important caveat, I really believe that our attachment to “things” is natural… I’d even go so far as to say it’s downright Biblical. (If you don’t believe me, read the Old Testament… or go to church and participate in communion). I think there’s a purpose behind my 27-year-old self being comforted by the “hug” of the stuffed panda bear I’ve had for as long as I can remember… and a purpose behind why a rational, grounded soon-to-be-retired couple can’t bring themselves to drive past their recently-sold home where they lived for decades. It doesn’t have to do with a collection of cloth and stuffing or a structured mass of wood and concrete… it has to do with something a lot more human than that, and I believe that’s okay.
(P.S…. I almost didn’t write this post this weekend. I know it’s a little “out there,” and I just wasn’t in a mood to put myself (or my inanimate objects) out there for the world to see. But then I turned on an episode of Jimmy Kimmel to have something in the background, and he interviewed a girl who, finding herself without a date, decided to take her calculator to prom. I’ve posted the two-part interview below if you need a laugh 🙂 )