Assignment: Today, imagine you work in a place where you manage lost or forgotten items. What might you find in the pile? For those participating in our serial challenge, reflect on the theme of “lost and found,” too.
The items stored in the Lost or Forgotten Property Department come from diverse locations across the country: airports; concert halls; movie theatres; bus stations; public restrooms; hotels. You name a place and we probably have an item from there.
Although I have been here for one year, I am considered a newbie. The reason? I remain enthralled by what I see almost daily. I try to appear unaffected but I know I am failing because I still catch one of my colleagues with an amused grin on her lips or in his eyes, or exchanging glances with another. In that moment I realize that again, while in the process of filing a missing or forgotten item, I became motionless, completely absorbed by the description accompanying an unclaimed item or one listed in the catalog of found or claimed items. Part A of the description catalogs basic facts about the item: type (e.g., book, watch, ring, photograph, camera); size; make; color; estimated or stated monetary value. It is Part B of the description, however, that inadvertently grabs my attention. This component chronicles the process through which the item was lost, the impact of no longer having the item, and for the found or claimed items, what was recovered along with the item. To me, it is Part B that highlights the true value of the item, regardless of its purchase price.
A note which I read on my third day remains imprinted on my memory. The item was an unadorned, gold ring lost by Elizabeth Strong. This is what she wrote: “The ring was my Nana’s. She always wore it on the middle finger of her right hand. She came to live with us after grandpa died and would often touch it, with an expression on her face that suggested she was somewhere else. During my childhood, I asked her many times what she was thinking but her only response was to smile and kiss the top of my head. My Nana died the year of my fifteenth birthday and, the day after the funeral, my mother give the ring to me in an envelope, with a note from my Nana. “I love you, Elizabeth,” she had written. “May the ring remind you of me as it reminded me of my youngest brother, Samuel, the uncle you never knew. May it help you to be brave as it helped me.” Elizabeth had continued the description with the explanation that she took the ring off to apply cream to her hands and placed it in the book that was open on her lap. “I was sitting at gate 2 in Terminal B and it must have fallen out of the book when I stood up to gather my other belongings in preparation for boarding. Please. I must find it.” I swear I could hear her tears and desperation. Another note from Elizabeth, dated two weeks later, was attached to the original description. It was shorter but just as powerful. “Thank you with all my heart. Receiving the package with Nana’s ring restored my belief that miracles can happen.”
I smile when I think of Elizabeth but I wonder too about the people who forgot items and never missed them. I wonder too about intangibles like lost hope, forgotten dreams and promises, and how much harder those can be to recover. Harder but not impossible.