If you would by chance happen to knock at my front door and ask to see where I keep my most prized possessions, I would lead you to my upstairs attic, pull the string on the exposed light bulb, and point to a spot along the far wall just beneath the vent leading outside.
There you would see an old toolbox, battered and rusty from years of use. The chipped green paint and rusted hinges may lead you to believe its contents are inconsequential at least and forgotten at most.
You would be wrong.
What’s inside that toolbox represent my life’s more memorable moments. A gum wrapper, some pine needles, a spent ring from a cap gun, and so on. Like I said, my most prized possessions. Knowing they’re up there makes me feel a little more comfortable being down here.
My mother has something similar, though her toolbox is disguised as a hope chest that sits in the corner of her bedroom closet. Inside you’ll find old report cards, forgotten toys, and pictures. Lots of pictures.
My father opts to store his keepsakes in the top drawer of his dresser, which had for years been strictly off limits to my prying hands until last week, when I summoned the courage to ask permission to rifle through its contents. I found old coins and older knives, one gun, several bundled letters I did not read, one wooden cross, and more old pictures.
I asked around, and most everyone had their own places for such things hidden somewhere out of sight. People have confessed to stashing their tokens of both past and present in socks and safe deposit boxes, cookie jars and coffee cans. One friend even stored his the old fashioned way—under the mattress of his bed.
Each admitted that no one else would be much interested in their private treasures. Again, none of them could be defined as valuable. Not on the surface, anyway. But beneath? Beneath they were priceless. I could tell they were by the hushed tones and soft smile they would offer along with their confession, as if the telling conveyed some holy secret.
Which I suppose is exactly the case. Handling those relics of the things we hold most dear often takes on the appearance of religious ritual. Touching a memory can be a powerful experience. An old photograph may not represent a mere moment in time, but a token that love is something worth holding onto. And a trinket may not be a trinket, but a symbol that faith does indeed move mountains.
We should consider these things holy. We are, after all, the sum of our experiences. We need those reminders lest we blur our today and cloud our tomorrow. We need to know where we’ve come from if we’re to know where we’re going.
One person I asked had things a little more figured out than the rest of us. A full-blooded Sioux, his people have had much experience in placing great meaning on physical objects. When I asked him where he kept his most precious things, he pulled his T shirt down and pulled out a leather necklace. On the end was a small beaded pouch that was fringed at the bottom.
“Here,” he said. “I keep them here.”
I told him about my toolbox, about the hopes chest and dresser drawer and socks and coffee cans. I even told him about my friend the mattress stuffer. He nodded and smiled, then said, “We all have our sacred things. But you keep yours hidden and far away. What good will they do you there? Why not keep them visible and close instead?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but nothing came out. He was right. Everyone I had talked to kept their treasures hidden away in the darkness of a chest or drawer. Myself included.
Why? Was it because we felt them too valuable to risk the light of day? Or too fragile to be handled often?
I wasn’t sure. But I began thinking about the things our treasures represent, the love and the faith. And I began thinking that often they, too, go hidden and unused. We tuck them away for fear that they are too valuable or fragile, when they are the very things we should carry close to us every day.