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Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Stuff We Collect

On a shelf I’ve got a fragment of thin, carefully painted 2,000-year-old pottery I picked up years ago in Petra – but I don’t look at it much.
That blue Michigan license plate from the Chrysler Something I bought way up by the Canadian border, drove to Mississippi and then bounced up and down San Francisco’s hills is on top of a bookcase. In the attic.
Somewhere tucked away is the bag of Dhofari frankincense Mabkhot Al Amiry pressed into my hand. The olive-stone necklace Umm Asad made on her porch by the Dead Sea tomato fields is chucked in with tutus and tiaras at the bottom of a play box. I kept the chunky watch that a Russian soldier insisted I take after we shared a train compartment to Warsaw, less than six months after the Berlin Wall came down – but I’m not sure where it is. The point-toed leather slippers from Marrakech weren’t a pair when I got them, and they still aren’t now. I bring out the bespoke Cairo robe, perfect for a summer evening, and my wife rolls her eyes.
Stuff we collect. A minute of life-affirming richness. Then years of dead weight, pinning us to the past, wreathing everything we do – or try to – in the stale breath of the way things were.
On a twilit Pyrenean border road it had taken us all day to hitchhike from Montpellier. I was on my knees, begging cars to stop. One did. C was in the passenger seat. Twenty years on, he’s a bit like a brother.
In Amman, T was on one end of the group of friends who’d adopted me; I was on the other, newly single and hurting. It was a reckless time. I barely remember her. Twelve years later she tweeted hello. Now she laughs while pushing my kids in the park swings.
Then there was chopping vegetables with A in her kitchen in rural Massachusetts, more than a decade after those Tel Aviv deckchairs. The sweaty hotel room in Delhi with A. The long detour next week, to see M in Paris.
Never mind stuff. Collect people.

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