I had the opportunity last week to help my parents with some tidying up around their house. Much of the work involved going through items that had been kept far too long (in my opinion), sorting, storing and even throwing a thing or two away.
Keepsakes are an interesting thing. To some, they are as valuable as gold. The stand-up plaque given by a grandchild that reads "best grandpa in the world." The clipping from an old newspaper when someone scored 20 points in the district high school basketball tournament (complete with picture). The figurine that sat on the bedside table of a long-deceased grandparent.
Me? I'm not real big on keepsakes. It's not that I don't have any. I still drink coffee pretty frequently from a mug I bought after hiking rim-to-rim across the Grand Canyon in 2001. I have a National Parks Passport I carry in my travels with a stamp from every park I've visited in the last 20 years. I have quite a few old photos tucked away in boxes. I have a necktie once belonging to my grandfather.
And now, I have this. It's an old Mickey Mouse squeak toy from the early 60s. It's vintage, and in excellent condition. I found it while cleaning a room at my parents' house. (My mother is one of the keepsakes are gold people.) It has no real value. In truth, it has very little sentimental value. I don't remember playing with it a lot. I don't remember it being very much of my childhood at all. It would have virtually no value at all if it were not for the other picture, the one to the right. That's me, the writer, circa 1962 holding Mickey next to a Christmas tree in the very house I was working on last week.
When I found it, I paused for a few moments and thought about what matters in life. What matters isn't the toy, or even the picture. What matters is that once upon a time, a little boy stood under a real Christmas tree, decked out in his finest Christmas attire, in a house where his family lived and loved, and held a Mickey Mouse toy. What matters is that it happened at all.
And what matters is what's happening right now, right in the middle of our own lives.
I'm glad it happened. But I fear we spend so much time documenting things these days that documenting can become the reason we do things, and not being in the middle of things that are happening. If we miss the event, what good is the keepsake. If we're too focused on a selfie with the Grand Canyon behind us, we might miss the entire canyon itself.
I'm glad I have the picture, and the toy. I'll put both in the same category as my Grand Canyon mug, my grandfather's necktie and the 20 or 30 small items I'll probably never part with.
And every time I look at it, I'm going to remember what matters. What matters is what happens.