January 24, 2011

The Value of Material Things

Victor Frankl describes in Man's Search for Meaning the intake process he went through at a concentration camp. Among the things he describes, one thing particularly caught my attention - the moment when each person is directed to hand over all of their possessions.
The men and women are stripped of their clothing and all personal effects. In this desperate moment, there were various attempts to hold on to material things - a wedding ring, a good luck charm, a photo, or, for Frankl, his manuscript containing all of his scientific work. At the moment when the manuscript is confiscated, Frankl asserts that the psychological response was to strike out his "whole former life."

As I read this passage, the thought occurred to me, "What is it about material objects that comfort us or anchor us? Is it possible that material things provide some value that I haven't before considered?"

Growing up in the midwest and in a middle class family, the desire to obtain material objects was frowned upon or ignored as a goal altogether. Even now living in San Francisco, it's not uncommon to overhear conversations lamenting materialism. But, Frankl's comments caused me to reconsider the role material objects play in our lives.

I started noticing around my house the material objects that anchor me, that seem to shout "Here I am, this is my life!" - a novel I've read over and over again, a necklace that was my first piece of "real" jewelry, a photo of my lover ... These material objects tell a story, mark time, transport me back to a moment or anchor me to the present ... wow!

It now strikes me as absurd to try to avoid materialism. It seems to be an inherent way that we remember our history and create our present. Material objects can provide comfort in times of discord, anchor us when we feel unstable, or, on a simple level, tell the story of who we are to others.

What's a material object you own that tells your story?

1 comment:

  1. Great insight, Rachel! The things in our lives can bring comfort and memories, and they also can bring darkness and grief. Sometimes I cling to objects that open my heart and help me to hold onto life. Other times I have had to rid myself of objects that seemed imbued with the bondage and death of past relationships. I believe that our objects not only tell a story, they can even hold some of the life-force, for good or for ill, from those stories. My goal is not to be without material things, but to hold those things I keep with an open, grateful heart.


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