Broken Shards

Yesterday it finally happened. Something I’d worried about for years, but knew would eventually come to pass.

I accidentally dropped my beloved mug on our hard tile floor in the hallway, and it smashed into pieces.

Lots of people have favorite mugs for coffee or tea. Nothing new there.

The reason that this one was my favorite was that I’d purchased it on a trip to Alaska in May 2001. I’d joined two of my friends on a quick side-trip to Seward, south of Anchorage, on our day off.

We wandered around this small town nestled amid snow-capped mountains covered with pine trees. The nearby marina was full of sailboats and fishing vessels. Surrounded by such extraordinary natural beauty, Seward itself cannot really be considered quaint; instead, it is hardy and dependable.

It was on a slightly dusty shelf at one of the tourist gift shops on the main street that I found it. It was a simple, rounded, oversized coffee mug, blue on the outside and the color of cafe au lait on the inside. A moose and pine tree were hand-painted on the front;  ‘Alaska’ was painted in a casual font on the back.

I know how it may sound, but it was neither tacky nor kitschy. It was just the right size, shape, color, pattern. More importantly, it wasn’t mass-produced. It was unique, the only one of its kind.

At the time we were on a regional trip to Alaska as part of our nine-month development program with the US State Department. The program was wrapping up in a few weeks, and I would return to a new job in the Pentagon at the beginning of June.

I bought the mug knowing it would make a nice reminder of what had been both a personally and professionally fulfilling year. I could see myself drinking my morning coffee out of it, looking back on fond memories of the interesting things I’d learned and done, and reminiscing about the great friendships I’d made.

In a sense, this mug would be a marker between my prior working life before the course and the new one that awaited me. Little did I know that in a few short months, on September 11th, it would come to represent all of that and more on a much grander scale.

Before….and after.

Over the years I’ve sipped many a cup of coffee (and the occasional tea) from that mug. It was mine and mine alone. No one else in the family dared touch it, and it was never offered to visitors. Ever.

In time it became an anchor, linking the life I’d had before that fateful day and the one that developed since. It was not a sad reminder. I did not look at it and think only of those whose lives had been tragically cut short. There was no need for a visual reminder anyway as those thoughts have never been far from my mind.

Rather, it was reassuring. I would look at that mug and be reminded of how I had lived my life: the ways in which it had changed, the many turns it had taken in the intervening years.

Freud and Jung would probably have a field day psychoanalyzing how I dropped it on September 12, 2011, the day after the ten year anniversary. But I know that it was nothing more than my attempting to carry one thing too many. It teetered unbalanced, and fell. My luck had simply ran out.

As I stood over the broken shards, I held my breath.

I’m not sure why, but I probably was expecting to feel a wave of emotion wash over me. When one didn’t, I was surprised.

After a few seconds I cursed softly and exhaled. I continued to stare at the fragments for another minute, then leaned down to sweep them up.

Somewhere along the way I’d learned that my mug was just a thing. It meant something to me, and I’m sorry it’s gone, but in the end, it’s just a thing. Things can be replaced.

It didn’t house my memories. I still have them.

I don’t need it to remind me of all that it represented.

I needn’t fear that without it, I’ll forget. Not a chance.



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