I have met many people who are owned by their possessions. I married one. (Before you get too carried away figuring names, you should know I’ve been married twice.) I watched the spirit be enslaved by atoms and I vowed not to fall under the same spell.
If you saw how much crap I have in storage, you’d know just how well I have done. In my defense, I gave away furniture, books, bags and bags of clothes, and anything else I could bear to unload. On an American scale, I chucked it in. I consider what is left the seed for the next home I own. Yeah, I know I’m rationalizing.
But there’s one thing, one physical object that I really should shed. Atoms. A machine. A car.
I sit here in Prague and extol the virtues of public transportation while clinging to a two-seater sports car. You have to cut me some slack; I crossed continents in that car, saw things, met folks, almost slid off the road and off a cliff in a Canadian hailstorm. And this is how things come to own you. They become containers of memories. Symbols.
Some are symbols of wealth or power; the Rolex doesn’t do much for me. The beautiful sports car that is too valuable to drive, I can do without. Some things are symbols of accomplishments of other sorts – having the largest collection of bobblehead dolls on the Eastern Seaboard requires a great deal of dedication, but in the end, I’ll pass.
There is the One Treasured Thing. Here is a sort of material possession (possession is a verb there) that I can appreciate. I envy people the One Treasured Thing. It is an item of such deep personal significance that it passes beyond symbolism and becomes identity. It is part of who you are. The One Treasured Thing is much more than a simple thing.
The test: I could always buy another car. Therefore it is not a One Treasured Thing. But still I am reluctant to let go. Someday, I conceitedly imagine, that road trip I took in that car will inform the next great American road story, and that particular car will become an American icon. I am perfectly aware how ridiculous that conceit is, but to deny it would be to devalue my one work under way that might actually qualify as literature.
In Prince George, British Columbia, I was waiting at a traffic light, top down to the Canadian summer, car packed to the gills. The guy in the next lane towered over me, and looked down into my packed-full little car. “You need a truck,” he said.
“No, I need less crap,” I wish I answered.
I don’t need a car, I need to believe. And so a thing has become symbolic, unreasonably so, and it has trapped me.