Thursday, November 07, 2013

The continuity of possession

I see on Facebook that someone I know has lost her glasses. I know that feeling. The tingling stomach, the palpitations, the fear overcomes me when I realize that something I really need is not easily found at the moment. That's how I get when I lose things.

When I was a kid, I seemed to lose a jacket at school almost every year. It was a triumph of the will to find that I managed to keep a jacket for more than a couple grades, even to outgrow one.

When I was around 8 or 9, I acquired the trust of my parents not to lose a key to the house. I kept this on a string around my neck when I went out. But one fateful day, I lost that key. I was grounded and the phone and the TV were off limits. Dad had all the locks and keys replaced and I was handed a bill for $80. Then I learned that I was grounded until I paid the debt off.

"Uh, Dad. I'm 11 years old and I don't have a job." I got a job. For $1 an hour, I worked around the house everyday to pay off that debt. Clean this, fix that, clean some more over there. I took over chores for my siblings to pay that debt off. Grounded, in debt, with no one to help me out, I was learning a very hard lesson at an early age.

Eventually, somewhere around $50 into paying it off, my dad decided to forgive the rest of my debt and I was released from debtors prison. But from that point on, I got really consistent about putting anything of value anywhere I wanted to find it again. I started with my keys and made sure that I always put them in the same pocket every time I used them. I made sure that the keys went back into my pocket when I was done opening a door. Same goes for my wallet and money. I still do that to this day. I don't leave my keys or my wallet laying around anywhere, they're always in a pocket.

As a kid, I could manage my glasses fine. I knew where they were because I wore them during waking hours and made a point of putting them in the same place every time. But then one day I got a hearing aid that wasn't built into my glasses. Yes, I wear a hearing aid, so just speak distinctly and you won't have to repeat yourself.

That new hearing aid was much smaller and more expensive than anything I had ever possessed. One day I lost it. The feelings came back again. Whatever Dad was doing at work, it was good because he didn't seem to have a problem buying another hearing aid and I didn't have to get another job to pay it off.

As a single man, I lived in low level fear of losing my keys, locking myself out of my apartment, my car or losing the keys to work. That fear was especially acute if I were dealing with keys that were expensive to copy or replace, like keys to server rooms at work. The more important the keys I had on my key ring were, the more aware I was of where I last left my keys.

With my wallet, my keys, glasses and hearing aid, I consistently place them where I know I will find them. Even in the dark. Even when my living conditions change, like moving from apartment to house, I make sure that my most important possessions wind up in the same place, day after day, whether that be a pocket, a table, a nightstand or some other location. When I'm on vacation, I improvise but I'm consistent during the entire stay in a hotel.

That consistency over time has meant that I didn't worry about locking myself out of my car. I was only very briefly concerned with putting my keys back in my pocket. I didn't worry about losing my hearing aid, I simply made sure that I put my hearing aid in the same spot when I went to sleep, every night.

Human beings are creatures of habit. Consistent action over time, even for small things can yield enormous benefits. If I know where my keys are, I get to work on time, because I can focus on doing my writing, preparing for work and spending some time with family before I leave. Simple habits like these mean that I have the freedom to do other things that are more important to me than spending an hour looking for something I lost before I need to leave the house.
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