Back in 2006, my mother and my stepfather had decided to commit to a long-term plan of moving their whole lives to South Korea, setting up a headquarters there, and traveling back and forth to Cambodia, Philippines, and China for missions work. They entrusted a dear friend of theirs to be the caretaker of a little garage that was filled with my family’s most valuable possessions, mainly being relics of the past, photo albums, and stuffed animals dating back to when I was born. Mind you, this is a MIRACLE, because my mother and I have moved around repeatedly (think once every two years for 20 years), and to even think that that many boxes followed us faithfully throughout our lives is crazy.
Until my mother’s return in 2011, I had only gone there a couple times to retrieve a few items I needed. But now that my mother wanted her stuff back, we went to that garage and the blood went cold in our veins. All of it, it was gone. Just… gone. Staring into that empty garage, a rush of thoughts and rage went through me, and I started to panic. There were some very personal things in there, and I hated the idea of them being in the wrong hands. That “friend” that my parents trusted so long ago? He’s gone too. We don’t know where he went.
Now, I don’t want to go into the gory, legalistic details of what we had to go through, but the thing I want to focus on is the perception of value, and why certain things matter so much to us. For my mother, she was devastated about losing all the photo albums recording my whole childhood and the little art projects I did in elementary school. I remember being at a wedding and viewing those slideshows of the happy couple in their younger days, and feeling a pang of angst because I knew that I would not have a single picture to contribute to that. At that point, I felt like my whole childhood which I would depend on those pictures to remember, was wiped off the face of the earth, and no one would ever know.
But even more than the pictures and my stuffed rabbit named Bobo that my now-deceased grandmother gave to me when I was born, I mourned even more at the loss of my books. I am a huge book nerd, so my collection was overwhelming. My mother and I used to get into screeching arguments about my books, because I refused to move without them and my mother just wanted to make space for more necessary things in life, like food or clothing. All I wanted and needed were my books. You may find this crazy, but the memories I recall when I think about the books I had are much more vivid than the memories I would get out of a picture.
Ranging from Goosebumps, The Great Gatsby, The Firm, to Tuesdays with Morrie, Joy Luck Club, and my Harry Potters, all of these books had a specific memory attached to them. I remember I was 12 years old when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone came out, and it kept me company as I had to walk a couple miles to school and back daily. There was one day when I was struggling because I didn’t fit in at school, and I was gripping onto my book despondently. Then Hagrid reassuringly stated to Harry, “Everyone starts at the beginning…Just be yerself. I know it’s hard…But yeh’ll have a great time.” That honestly helped me out a bit.
Sure, I can go out and re-buy these books again, but they won’t be the same books I held in my hands. The smell, the creases, the intent note-taking and highlighting I contributed… none of that will be there.
We place value in different things, and we find memories in the most random places. But one thing for sure is that I am SO grateful for those books that traveled with me through a long, arduous journey, because they granted me wisdom, comfort, and motivation when I couldn’t find it anywhere else.
May books never go away, and may words continue to paint the worlds we do and don’t live in for all to behold.