I want to tell you about my shelves.
I have these two shelves in my house. I hung them on my wall last winter. I was very sad at the time, and accomplishing a thing, even something as simple as hanging shelves, made me me feel better. Because drilling holes into a wall and putting up something where nothing was before helped me feel like I could exercise some measure of control over my life. That I could make things better.
But it didn’t really work. The shelves remained nearly empty for quite some time. I couldn’t decide what to put on them. I don’t collect anything in the traditional sense. I don’t have an eye, or even a desire, for decorating. I don’t own valuable figurines, nor do I have a bunch of trophies or awards I need to display with pride.
Yet, over time, without much thought or deliberation, the shelves began to fill with things that had made me feel good. Nothing fancy. Photographs of places I’ve visited. Tickets stubs from movies I’ve watched with friends. Receipts from meals shared with friends at restaurants. Small, but vastly meaningful, gifts from friends and family. Notes and letters. Rocks that I’ve picked up during walks with my granddaughter Lila, or on hiking trips with my son Mitch. Plastic cups from sporting events, parties and concerts. Some of the items are from far in my past, but most are from the past year or so.
My shelves, that once had sat empty, now are filled with little reminders of the people and moments for which I am thankful. Roughly a year ago, when I looked at these shelves, I saw emptiness, and I didn’t know that I’d ever put anything on them. But my shelves are now overfull. One is bowed in the middle from the weight it carries. I can’t add a new item without moving things around. In fact, it’s about time to put up another shelf to create room for those items I’ll want to save in the future.
And so I’m really thinking about this today, on the day designated to offer a collective gratefulness and thanksgiving for all that we have in our lives.
I get sad sometimes. Not the “I’m just down and I’ve got the blues” variety. I mean sad. I mean the “will any of the days in front of me be better than the days behind me” variety. I mean the “I completely fucked up my life and there’s no recovering from it” type of sadness. But these shelves are always there, and I can walk over to them any time I want. And I can remember.
When a friend gave me a knife, for camping and whittling or whatever I wanted, and said that my happiness would always be in my hands.
When another friend and I dressed up for a Halloween party.
When a card said that something might seem like the end, but it wasn’t really.
When I rode a mountain bike with my brother over the Slick Rock at Moab. Or when I rode my bike across Kansas, and the friends I made and the memories I gathered.
When a book was more than a story, but a peak into another’s soul. Or when another friend’s book gave me some much needed perspective. When a note or a letter spoke to me in ways the author won’t ever really know.
When someone reached out to me when they knew I was low, and their words set me on a different track.
When Mitch and Erica made me beam with pride.
When I listened to music in one of the most incredible venues in the world.
I can’t possibly name them all here. I don’t know how many items are on these shelves. Hundreds, it seems. And I add more almost every week. Some of them are quite silly, really, and wouldn’t make sense to anyone else. But I’ll see it, hold it in my hand for a moment, and in that instant I can see that day, that person, that memory as if it were happening once again. And I can remember just how much richness is in my life. These things have no tangible value. Monetarily, they are worthless. But to me, they are invaluable memories; they are the physical manifestation of a moment that is a page in the story of my life.
If you and I have spent much time together at all in real life, there’s a nearly 100 percent chance there is something from you on these shelves. I don’t tell people about it, really, I just take some small reminder with me and find a place for it to go on the shelves, so I’ll remember. So I can preserve, in some way, this moment that made my heart swell, that made me feel loved, or alive, or appreciated. And most of all thankful for the people who have chosen to share their lives with mine – even for a short time – and by doing so, filled my shelves and my soul with more happiness and gratitude than I ever could’ve imagined.
Thank you. And Happy Thanksgiving!