It was rubber bands in the end, rubber bands and an old lock, the words SQUIRE and Old English somehow still legible after years of rust and spiderwebs, that kicked off my insatiable curiosity. This is a thing you should know well by now, you who have been around this place longer than the rest, though it might come as brand new, perhaps even surprising, for any new to this place, this Signal Fire.
I’ve long been a noticing soul, one who wanders the world around me finding, often whether I like it or not, the tiniest details, the most seemingly insignificant pieces of flotsam and jetsam that wash up on the shores of our days. Hell, I wrote a book about this with my wife, Miracle in the Mundane, about how this strange way of walking through a life can actually be a practicable skill and might just be the secret to a more fulfilling life.
I believe this still, as I believe hiding in the most mundane situations, the most commonplace of items or interactions or places, are entire lives, entire souls, the fingerprints and the echoes of the people who made them, who spent time there, who fell in love or changed their stars or took a risk or grieved or laughed or felt their heart race out of the cage in their chest. All around us, a million different stories, a billion different songs, all singing out with lyrics only they know, and in the end, it was rubber bands that really lit this point on fire for me, rubber bands and that old steel lock hanging from that old steel gate on a castle in Wales.
When preparing for one of my Matchbook posts before Lady G was so graciously donating her time to the videos, I stumbled across a video about how rubber bands are made. That’s it. I’ve always been a fan of that Discovery channel show, “How It’s Made,” so as if on autopilot, I clicked the damn video about rubber bands and found myself in complete and total awe. Here were dozens and dozens of people, all with extremely specific jobs, working together to create these indispensable little items that I’d wager most of us never even pay a single thought to. They are just there, aren’t they? (Did you know that more than 30 million pounds of rubber bands are sold in the United States each year alone?!) I watched as each person completed their task, ranging from wrestling massive spools of natural rubber to packaging them into boxes, and my mind started evaporating up and off and imagining the lives of them all. Where they went after they clocked out, what they ate, what they dreamed when they laid their heads on their pillows, and whether or not those dreams were about rubber bands, at all.
I realized, somewhere along that deep rabbit hole my brain happened to fall down this time around, that there’s a truth in this world we fail to acknowledge far too often, especially as we catapult headfirst towards such a consumption-focused society:
We have no idea, in the end, how the things we buy, consume, use, and then waste, are made.
We forget, don’t we, that there are so many people, so many techniques and unique skills and elements behind every single thing we consume, every single thing we end up throwing away, and that entire lives are supported by those people doing this. All they create, all they make, sell, distribute, and deliver, supports a network of humanity behind the scenes. Now multiply that by infinity for every thing we call disposable.
I’m not here to preach about capitalism, about our wanton consumption on this planet, though my mind did spill rapidly down another rabbit hole about the waste that we as a species produce — did you know in the United States alone, people waste 80 MILLION TONS of perfectly edible food every single year? That totals 149 BILLION meals friends, and we’re quite literally tossing away $444 billion worth of food annually. Sheesh. Anyway, I digress again. I’m not here to say you needed a wake-up call about what we’re buying, no, I’m saying that there’s an opportunity for a practice here that I believe can pay some pretty impressive and serious dividends. I suppose it’s literally one of the massive themes of the Miracle in the Mundane book we wrote, but it’s worth reiterating.
We can be mindful of what we use, and in doing so, cultivate a much deeper sense of empathy within ourselves. It’s been proven time and again that the greater our capacity for empathy, the happier we’ll end up being. One of those counter-intuitive little gems of knowledge that you can’t Un-learn, and you’re better for it. The more you care for others, the happier you are, simple as. If we can start small, practicing with baby steps in amplifying our own empathetic capabilities, the rewards will be great, for those on the receiving end of this empathy, yes, but also for ourselves.
We can start simply, small, by just introducing small thought experiments into our days. Each time we pick something up that we did not make ourselves, stop a moment and imagine the life of the person who made it. Even if machine-created, somehow had to make that damn machine, and my goodness what a little marvel that is. Hold the item, let your curiosity go, and if you’ve the time, even investigate how that little thing came to be, how it was crafted, and take a moment to look, to see, the hands connected to the arms connected to the bodies of the people who did the work. Then, before tossing it aside, first I BEG YOU, see if you can use it again, and again, before sending it to the bin.
There is a hidden life in things, and I think we humans are experts in infusing our souls in the things we do, the strange creations we help bring into existence. We are prayer flags, all of us, designed to fray and float off on the breezes our life sends searching.
Pieces of us go everywhere, in the words we write, the songs we sing, the jobs we do, and if we bother to stop long enough to listen, we can hear this great cosmic hum, this universal OM that is everywhere, in everything, connecting us to some great tapestry we forget we’re all a part of.
Still in the first month of 12 this time around, I love to use this time to remind you that small changes can lead to monumental shifts, and this is one I have long believed to be worth it. The more we notice, the more we truly see, and the more we see, the more we feel, the more we connect both with our own internal truths, and the great big everything that just won’t stop stirring around us.
Rubber bands and a steel lock, the reminder I needed of the sheer size of this beautiful place and the people that inhabit it. The hidden life of things, those fingerprints calling out in echoes, those souls of those that put their time and sweat and blood and care into them.
What a thing. What a thing.
Hidden life in things,
echoes of the fingerprints,
souls of who made them.
Song of the Week
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