I recently read the book The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan. It is the story of a man who, when he happens upon them, keeps and catalogues lost things with the hope of eventually returning the items to their rightful owners.
These objects are not purposefully discarded like a cigarette flung from a moving car or a piece of furniture set by the curb for bulk collection. Lost things are inadvertently dropped, absent mindedly set down, misplaced and then missed by their owner.
With this in mind, I have begun to take better notice of the lost things I encounter, what I would ordinarily overlook but have decided instead to pick up, contemplate, and keep for myself.
Lost Thing #1 – St. Joseph figurine from a home selling kit
A small St. Joseph figurine was buried in the mulch at the base of one of our front yard trees. Our yard is not overgrown. It’s not even a yard in the traditional sense; it has no grass. So, how could I have missed seeing this little figure for all the months we’ve lived here? Since we are only the second owners of this home, I think the first owners installed St. Joseph under the tree as he is the patron saint buying and selling homes.
If you want to sell your house quickly, buy a St. Joseph statue, wrap it in protective cloth, bury it in your yard, then pray daily until the house sells. At that point, you’re supposed to dig up St. Joseph, give thanks, and take him with you to your new home.
But this St. Joseph was forgotten in my yard until I found him and gave him a new home. Today, he sits on a window sill in my office, gazing out the window at the condos across the street. This provides him the same view he had all the months he was buried in my yard although now he has little Buddha and Ganesh figures to keep him company.
I like to think that St. Joseph, having sold my house, has now assumed some of his other patron saint duties, like blessing travelers. May he carry me safely on my journey and, if I should lose him, may he bless whoever finds him next.
Lost Thing #2 – Empty banded snail shell
There is a point on my morning run when I have to cross a set of railroad tracks. Until last week, I’d never encountered a train. But, I did last week, and as I stood there waiting for the train to pass, I looked down into the gray rocks that line the track. Right at my feet, I noticed an empty, banded snail shell. I picked it up and literally ran with it, contemplating its meaning with each footfall.
Snails are born with their shells, which harden and grow over time. While not attached to the body, the shell is nevertheless a permanent part of the snail’s existence. A snail never outgrows or leaves its shell, and the shell serves as both a home and a means of protection. The shell is a refuge until death, at which point, the snail decomposes while the shell remains.
I ran home with this banded snail shell set it on my window sill next to a tooth that my puppy just lost. In this setting, the shell reminds me when we form attachments, they may be temporary. Releasing the attachment is simply part of the life cycle.
Lost Things: New Owner, New Meaning
Even though I am not the original owner, having picked up St. Joseph and the snail shell, I am now the caretaker of these lost things. I intend to honor that responsibility by keeping them at hand and remembering what they meant in their former life and what they mean to me now.