I have a lost and found department inside my mind. I imagine you have one, too. It’s a strange little corner of the mind that’s hard to find, but once you’re there, it’s a devil to get out of. The “escape rooms” that are so popular today at least give you clues. Not so the Mental Lost and Found. You’re on your own, and you must chart your own course, or you can spend the better part of the day sifting through thoughts, hopes, ill-formed ambitions, and the debris of crashed dreams. On rare occasion, though, you can mine gold. And that makes the perilous descent worthwhile.
A trip to the Mental Lost and Found can be triggered by rummaging through the physical lost and found in the house. Usually there are several of these in any home, and they often go by the more prosaic term of “closet” or “drawer.” Sometimes the entire attic, basement, or garage is a lost and found, particularly if you’ve lived in your home for more than twenty years. I can start sifting through the contents of one of those places, and before I know it, a long-vanished item surfaces. OOOOOOHHHHH! I had forgotten about this! This may be the coolest thing I’ve ever owned! How did it get stuck in here?
And there I go, sliding down the slick chute of unending reverie, to be dumped at the bottom into the Mental Lost and Found. I start thinking about how I got this object, what I intended to do with it, how it got waylaid, and now that it’s been salvaged, how do I make it the center of my life? A while back, while preparing to move for the first time in twenty-seven years, I was going down this rabbit hole almost every day. I spent the better part of six months in a fog of reminiscence, regret, and ambition, and I mean more of a fog than I’m usually in.
As almost nothing survives from my childhood below the age of fourteen, the fodder for the fog cannon was limited, or I might never have emerged. The small amount of high school memorabilia alone was sufficient for days. Strange little ribbons and certificates for Latin or math, a gold key for Press Club, cuff links – items that had been patiently hibernating until the impromptu time capsule they were entrapped in was unearthed.
But surely the young boy who had owned these treasures was a different person. Each item pointed to a road not taken, a dream not pursued, a career not chosen. Each path would have led to a different person than the one now holding the relic. A better person, or just different? A happier life, or one filled with misfortune? Insufficient data. And irrelevant. The only path that matters is the path you’re on.
Nostalgia has its charms. It also has its pitfalls. It can become a cesspool of regret and sorrow. Like everything in life, it’s worthwhile if we use it for positive purposes, and enjoy the experience, and learn from it. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment in the sweet bottomless pit of my Mental Lost and Found.