It’s Just Money

I lost my car keys last weekend. It doesn’t happen very often that I lose stuff, but when I do, I get car-keys-use-this-oneover it relatively quickly. Of course, it depends on what it is that I’ve lost, but if they are just “things”, I can let it go. But this time, since they were the keys for both our cars (one with the remote control), I was finding it a little challenging to let go. I kept thinking back to where I could have lost them. It must have happened last Saturday evening. I returned home from work, and my husband and I went out for a movie. We first stopped by at a sushi restaurant around the corner, and then went to a movie theater located on the U.S. Naval base. My husband drove so I didn’t use my car keys except when I opened the door after the movie. It’s hard for me to imagine that I dropped it in the parking lot after unlocking the door, before entering the car. That is why I thought  the keys must still be somewhere in our home (that I at least brought it back home). But so far I had no luck with finding them. There are not so many places for keys to hide in our modest-size condo. We asked our kids (3 years old & 20 months old) if they have seen them, but my older son said “no”, and the younger one just shakes his head, indicating he didn’t know.

Besides pondering about where it could be and what to do next, I thought about why I have been overly troubled by this event as much as I was. It brought back memory of a not-so-pleasant experience of the time when I had lived in Germany between 1998 and 2000. I was working for one of the United Nations organizations, and was living by myself in a cozy apartment which overlooked the Rhein river. One evening when I returned home after watching a movie with friends, I found a few police officers inside the apartment and I learned that my place was robbed. The burglar drilled a hole in the door and took out the door knob and key part completely. The police officers asked me what was taken. Surprisingly, they didn’t take much – I found my passport on the desk (they must have searched through the drawer), and the only thing missing were three rings that were in an accessory stand. They were not expensive or anything, but had significant sentimental value. I was really sad about the theft. I also remember being really scared that evening after the police officers left – the movie we watched that evening was coincidentally a horror movie, and I almost never watch horror movies (it was “Blair Witch Project”, very scary for me and I closed my eyes about 1/3 of the time).  I drew this conclusion from this unpleasant experience; I should not have too much attachment to things, because material things will eventually be lost, broken or stolen. Since then, I have chosen not to wear any jewelry. I don’t just not wear a wedding ring, I don’t own one – I even declined to get an engagement ring from the same reason (My husband definitely drew a lucky card there).

Now that I am writing about this for the first time, it occurred to me that every time I go out, even for a few days, I wonder if everything would be still there when I return home. It’s not like I’m constantly worried about it while I am away, but I take that as a real possibility – since it has happened to me once before that someone broke into my place. When I think about home while I’m out of town, I sometimes take a mental inventory of my stuff and think whether there are things that I would truly miss if they were stolen. My laptop computer? My books? My clothes? In the end, I always think, I’ll be okay. The only thing I’d truly miss would be those difficult-to-replace stuff such as baby albums. I wonder if people who were robbed or have lost their homes along with their stuff due to natural disasters have similar thoughts about their possessions. Losing stuff isn’t nice, not only because of the value of the lost items, but also because of the feeling of losing control. I also beat myself up a bit about these lost car keys, as I should have been more careful. My ever-forgiving husband has this motto “It happens to the best of us”, meaning everyone makes mistakes – so I am forgiven. We also say “It’s just money”. We don’t mean that we don’t value money or our possessions, but things (and also money) can be eventually replaced. Come to think of it, this might also explain why we don’t exchange things as a gift for birthdays and anniversaries anymore – I don’t know when we stopped giving each other stuff on special occasions, but we tend to do stuff like going somewhere special, such as going to a play or dancing event, even a trip, instead of giving gifts. Some might say that we might be missing out an exciting or romantic part of our relationship by not exchanging gifts on birthdays, but there is a definite advantage of going for the experience rather than acquiring stuff; that the memory stays with you. I don’t mean to say that you can’t lose it, because you can, by forgetting. But at least there isn’t much to keep track of, at least physically, so you might as well not worry about losing it. What’s the most valuable posessions you have ever lost? Share your thoughts & experiences!

3 comments on “It’s Just Money

  1. I’m kinda with you on the possession thing. I’m constantly trying to get ‘rid’ of stuff; not acquire more. I remember when everything I owned fit in my car. I could disappear overnight, without a trace. lol

    I used to be a pack-rat, still kind of am.
    This is why I love things digital. I haven’t bought a CD or Book in over 10 years. Every time I look at my bookshelf I think “How can I get rid of some of these?”.

    That is a bizarre event especially after the Blair Witch movie. You poor girl!

    Hopefully your keys pop up!

  2. Two ideas quickly came to my mind as I read your post. The old story about the two Zen monks “carrying” the girl across the water easily came first (for reference, in the off-chance you haven’t heard the story:

    As I remembered this story, I had a quick daydream which goes like this: Etsuko asks her husband to go with her to buy a set of engagement rings. She may or may not want the rings so much, but there’s only a silent voice inside which seems to say, “Rings to marry, rings that bind; rings to free the only heart you’ve left behind”.

    At the jeweler’s, Etsuko and husband look around for some rings. Etsuko tries one on, and it fits perfectly. Then suddenly, she remembers where to find the car keys. (end daydream)

    The other thought which came to me went like this: I wonder whether fear of loss (which is really a form attachment) was the determining factor in your decision about not getting the rings or gifts or other buying decisions. If this is even partly true, then I think the thieves in Germany may have stolen much more than originally supposed, since you ended up denying yourself some of the material gifts you otherwise would have liked to enjoy. If there’s such a thing as a “gift that keeps giving”, then attachment to bad experiences must be a “thief that keeps taking”.

    I’ve had a watch stolen, as well as a wallet (it had only about $30, but a couple of the photos were not replaceable, and it was not easy to replace the credit cards and social security card). The watch was stolen around 2003, and the wallet was around 1997. I never had a watch until my wife bought me one last year, and I carried a cheap $2 wallet until last year as well, when my wife to get me a decent one. I’m a creature of habit, as well as a bit obsessive-compulsive, so I usually need some help to let go of attachments.

    Maybe there’s no such thing as directly “letting go” of attachments. Maybe it’s only a matter of replacing attachments by focusing on something better or more interesting. I used to watch TV so much. Now I rarely do, since it’s so much better and more interesting to watch (and interact) with people and things online.

    (My wife is telling me to shut up now, because I talk too much.)

  3. Etsuko,

    Very nice post. I too have very little attachment to material things, and my wish list consists mainly of things I want to do, not materials I can obtain.

    Being robbed must be a horrifying, terrible thing for anyone to experience. But it sounds like what you’ve learned from the negative experience gave you a very positive way to look at life.

    Thanks for sharing this story. Hurray to all the memories you are making!