The chance of losing something is directly proportional to its value. Say you have a $50 bill and the picture of a $50 bill on a piece of junk mail. Which one do you think will get lost?
OK, it wasn’t actual money. It was a $25 gift certificate printed from the Blue Cross/Blue Shield website. I printed out the certificate and clipped it to my paper calendar. (Yes, I’m old school; I still use paper) and carried it around with me for two weeks. At some point, I removed the certificate thinking I might lose it, and guess what? I lost it in the paper vortex of our house. This paper whirlwind always sucks away the good stuff—such as a $25 certificate good at Barnes & Noble—into nothingness, and leaves behind every other piece of junk mail, receipt and expired coupon.
I phoned Blue Cross. Nope, once printed from the website, it cannot be reprinted. I know, It’s just 25 bucks, but it’s the principal of the thing.
I have looked everywhere for this missing gift certificate: the recycle bin, the garbage, the car, my endless stacks of paper near the phone, my stack of scrap paper by the computer, the “catch all” hutch. I do not know where things go in this house; if I were that woman in the Book of Luke, I’d still be hunting the lost coin.
I shared this disgruntling news with my friend I’ll call Candace. She could immediately relate. “I could give you $25 in cash and it wouldn’t be the same, would it?” she said.
No, I said.
Then she told me her egg plate story. Years ago, she found the piece in an antiques store. She was delighted with the white china and the delicate old-rose design on the front and the bit of human history on the back—a strip of masking tape with “Ma Britton” written on it.
Candace didn’t know who Ma Britton was, but removing the tape would have ruined part of the plate’s provenance. Obviously, the plate had been a family piece for someone named Britton. Over time, Candace used the plate for various occasions, but took care to not let the label disappear. Maybe because of an imagined story about Ma Britton, where she’d used the egg plate… she couldn’t part with that shred of history.
And then came the move in 2016.
If you haven’t moved, you have no idea the kinds of odd goings on that will grab the wheat from your chaff. In this case, it was the Ma Britton plate. Gone.
After months of looking for it, she gave up and happened to find an identical egg plate at a tag sale. She was delighted, but not ecstatic. I can relate; someone giving me $25 cash wouldn’t be the same as finding the Blue Cross certificate. A substitute is not the same thing as the original that we’ve longed for and cannot have.
This spring Candace looked one more time into an empty box in her attic and—eureka!–there was “Ma Britton”!
“Now what do I do? I don’t need two egg plates,” she said.
I haven’t advised Candace on what to do, but her choice should be simple: Keep both. If one plate breaks, she’ll have a spare, which is the reason we have so much stuff to lose in the first place. We can’t pare down and be happy about it. We can’t be pared down even by accident, accept it and move on. There is a lesson to be learned in all this if we’d only listen.