The tiny music box has no monetary value. It probably cost a couple of dollars when it was new. It’s just a novelty, really, not a real music box. You turn the hand crank and it plays “Happy Birthday.” That’s it.
But as I experienced another birthday today, nothing made me happier — if only briefly — than this little piece of cheap metal and plastic.
Why? It has nothing to do with the device itself. There are a million similar things out there which I wouldn’t even notice. So why this one?
It was a birthday gift from a woman who used to love me. It was part of a box of whimsical delights that she spent an afternoon carefully selecting for me in the past. I still have the box and the music-maker and a few other things.
I keep them because such tiny objects have the power to hold onto love — and playing that silly little box allowed me to feel loved by her again. Just for a minute.
I guess anybody can understand the sentimental value of objects, but to me it goes beyond that. In a way that sounds a little mystical, it’s as though an object that has been touched by one person — especially as a gift — somehow becomes charged with the emotions behind that gift.
Have you ever received a message from someone in the mail — a card or a letter, perhaps — that could have more easily been sent by email? If the only intent is to communicate information, there’s nothing quite so efficient as email or a text message. So why is it special to get a physical letter or card?
When someone chooses and then touches a physical object — such as a card or a piece of paper on which a message is written — it becomes something special. It’s no longer just the information. It seems to contain a kind of magic. It seems to come with the emotional and spiritual essence of the sender.
This is why gifts are so important.
A great gift isn’t a generic item that the recipient would happen to like to own. There’s a place for such gifts and there’s nothing really wrong with them. But a great gift is one that has thought and touch and emotion in it. That sort of gift isn’t something to throw away or to sell. It’s something to treasure, because a little piece of the sender’s heart came with it.
If I were to die and someone else had the task of going through my things and deciding what to do with them, there’s no question that such a person would throw this little music box into the trash. I have a lot of things like that — things which have no value to anyone except me, because those things are physical containers for a feeling from the past.
That’s the real value of the things that we keep. Yes, some objects have simple utility and we all need those. But there’s an entirely different group of things. They’re the things which mean nothing to anyone except the giver and the receiver.
Those gifts are charged with powerful meaning to those two people, but they’re useless to anyone else.
Love is a powerful emotion. So are many other human emotions. In a way that I can’t explain or understand, gifts can hold onto those emotions. They can allow us to replay emotions from the past. They can allow us to feel loved once again.
That experience isn’t as good as the real thing, but there are times when holding onto the belief we’ve been loved is all we have. And there are even moments when that’s enough.