Miracles happen everyday, change your perception of what a miracle is and you’ll see them all around you. ~ Jon Bon Jovi
Working in an archives means dealing with the things people leave behind. Oftentimes the things that find their way into our collections are items which commemorate some big event or moment in someone’s life — a wedding, anniversary, award, or some other special event that marked something important, something big.
But for me, the most fascinating items are the little bits and pieces of life, the everyday things of living that find their way into my hands. Take, for example, the note I used as the picture today. It’s a simple note from my mother to my father from some moment when she had to be out of town and away for a few days. The message was sweet, sincere, heartfelt. A love note that merits keeping. But what totally cracks me up, and is so in keeping with my mother’s personality, is the paper it’s written on — bug paper from an exterminator company. The blending of those two things still amuses me many years after its creation.
Those little moments of time, the little pieces of the ordinary, are to me the most fascinating items we have in our collections. A schoolgirl’s scrapbook of things she did her senior year. A man’s collection of business cards. A woman’s recipe book, full of notes and changes and her personalized directions and alterations.
None of these things are momentous or life-changing. None are what people think makes up history or papers in archives. But each of these little personal treasures –the everyday things of life– to me tell the story of who lived that life. What they cherished. What they valued. Not the big framed art or the expensive jewelry, but the love note, tucked in a book or a drawer, or the child’s drawing hung on the refrigerator.
As always, my mother summed it up in her writing far better than I can, so I’ll share her words with you. When she was in her mid-30s, her husband was diagnosed with cancer and spent 3 1/2 years dying. When he passed away, their children were 7, 8, and 10. During her own illness many years later, she was working on a book about her life, and these are her thoughts about everyday things:
What do people talk about when you know you will not be together much longer? Well, exactly the same things you talk about when you don’t know — only it’s a bit more difficult. At first, we found ourselves avoiding words like death, funeral, retirement, and the children. But then we found ourselves telling each other (particularly him telling me) little things about the future that we had planned, in light-hearted ways still with the knowing that comes with loving someone dearly. I began a little book of notes locked carefully in my special drawer. It was during this time that I think I really learned to live — while he was dying. The dust in the house had always bothered me; I was afraid someone would come by and see some. But I learned some of the truly important lessons in life and living during those three and a half years. I know now the piano sounds exactly the same with dust on it as when it is dusted. I learned that receiving joy is as powerful as giving joy. I learned that the most important things are the everyday things and how most people miss them when they move through life too fast.
So when my husband asks me why I have the old crumpled post-it note with his pen-scratched xoxo’s on it taped to my computer or when I contemplate if I really need to keep file folders full of cards and letters, I hear my mother’s voice in my head reminding me that it’s these little everyday things that remind me of the special things in life.
What kinds of everyday things do you hang on to?
[Note: This post is #5 of 26 of the April A-to-Z Challenge. Please see the button on the right of the page for more information.
Last year’s “E” post: Encouragement.]