When I turned 39, I decided that since no one was around to buy me a really nice birthday present, I would buy myself one. Shawn and I both believed that it was important to do nice things for yourself, so I knew he would have approved. In any case, I recently got a great new camera and I’ve spent the past few weeks taking test photos of my children. Last week, my cousin came to town and we took the kids to the zoo, so I used the opportunity to bust out my new camera and see what it could do. I think I took about a thousand photos of the baby orangutan, and I also shot this magical cover photo of the kids with the sea lions.
It was a great, if exhausting day and we slumped on the couch at the end of it. It was at that moment that I realized that I couldn’t find my camera. My cousin and I started searching for it and couldn’t find it anywhere. She started really worrying, turning over couch cushions and looking everywhere. I went upstairs to deal with something, and heard her shuffling through everything.
It was at that moment that I thought, “I really don’t care if we find this camera.”
I mean, I wanted to find the camera. I liked it, and I had spent a decent amount of money on it, and dammit, it was the first present I’ve given to myself during this terrible time period in my life. It was just expensive enough that if it was gone, I wouldn’t be replacing it. I didn’t want to lose this camera.
But I also didn’t really care if we found it. By that, I meant that I’d like to find it, that finding it would definitely be better than not finding it. But when I used to lose things like this, objects of some value, I would get this panicky feeling in my chest that something truly bad had happened. I would feel like things were not going to be okay if I couldn’t find whatever it was – keys, wallet, phone, whatever.
Now, I just don’t care in that same way. When I lost the camera that day, I honestly didn’t get that panicky feeling that I’ve felt so often before. I was annoyed, certainly, but I didn’t feel like the world was going to end.
The thing is, the camera doesn’t matter. It’s never mattered. The only change in my life is that now I know that the camera doesn’t matter.
I’m not saying I’m going to stay this newly enlightened forever, or that I won’t freak out over something trivial as soon as tomorrow. I am just saying that death, and grief, changed me in this very specific way. I like nice things. I do. I just don’t care about them right now in the same way I used to. In some ways, it’s kind of freeing.
After I had kids, I used to tell people about going through a similar experience when I was at the airport. Before, I would worry about having every single thing I might possibly need, but once I had kids, all I worried about was whether all of them were still with me as I moved through the airport.
But I know that even then, I would have freaked out if I had lost a brand new camera. And you know what? I know that there will be a time, someday, when I will no longer be so calm when faced with a lost wallet or watch or camera. I know I will not always have this perspective, though I truly do wish I could keep it forever.
It’s cliché, and not good writing to say this, but things – actual physical objects – don’t matter to me right now. I like the nice objects I own, and I appreciate quality products in my house. It’s just that I know they don’t really matter. I knew that before, of course, but now I feel it in a deeper way.
The panic is gone. I guess I used it all up in the weeks when Shawn was really sick and in the months after he died. My gut seems to have re-set to a new normal where only a few things – and their names are Claire, Austin and Tommy – can really make me panic.
So, I figured in that moment, that I could do without the camera. Hell, I still had a phone that could capture the basics.
Of course, after all that, my cousin came back inside from searching the car for a second time. “I found it!” she said.
I was glad to find the camera. But in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter.