April, 2004:
other people's missing memories

Laundry is taken care of communally in our community. A couple of times a week I carry a sack full of clothes up to the laundry (taking the dog out for a walk at the same time), and there I distribute those dirty clothes into various compartments by color and/or type of material. And almost daily we take home the clean laundry, or at least whatever is ready. I've performed this ritual for many years.

The women who work in the laundry - either washing the clothes, or, after they've been washed, distributing them to the shelves where we find them - also enact a long-standing ritual. Every few months they organize a small exhibit of the plethora of objects that accumulate in the washing machines - objects which fall out of pockets that haven't been emptied before being sent to the wash. The purpose of this exhibit is to remind us that we should empty our pockets before putting our clothes in the wash. Many of these objects most definitely cause damage both to the clothes and to the washing machines, and viewing the objects on display is supposed to make us more aware of this fact.

But my interest in these objects comes from a totally different perspective. These are, after all, objects which people kept in their pockets. While it's true that many of them may have been expendable and won't be missed, at least some of them weren't meant to be thrown out. Did the people who lost them actually miss them? Did they search for them? Did they find them when they were exhibited and say to themselves "so that's where that went"? Were they relieved to find them again?

As someone for whom even very small and long forgotten objects can still hold meaning, I found myself gazing at each of these and wondering which of them had actually been meaningful to someone else, in what way, and why. I found it difficult to single out a handful of them for special attention - some items may seem more obviously significant while others would probably never be missed, but I've kept tiny objects in my pockets for weeks, objects which over that time became (albeit marginally) meaningful to me. That meaning wasn't inherent to those objects before I kept them in my pocket. Instead, it was because I handled them over and over again, because I wondered about them, that they became infused with meaning. I can only gaze at these objects and wonder, or conjecture, about them. I don't really know which had meaning and which didn't. Who knows? I thought that I was singling out the pearls from what found its way to the wash, yet the truly emotionally valuable items among these may have slipped by me.

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