Family & Education

Lost, found and happy ever after

We invest a huge amount of love and meaning into certain objects, so when they disappear, so does the emotional connection we’ve invested in them, says Susan Reuben


As we were leaving shul the other week, my husband, Anthony, discovered that someone had made off with his umbrella. It was a particularly nice umbrella that I’d bought him for Chanukah last year — one that he probably wouldn’t have treated himself to. There are well over 3,000 people in our community, any one of whom could have mistakenly taken it.

Admittedly, they don’t all turn up each Shabbat, but it nevertheless seemed unlikely that he’d ever see it again. He was therefore seriously grumpy on our walk home (though luckily, it wasn’t actually raining).

That afternoon, we went to my parents’ for tea. “I’ve been to shul twice today,” said my dad, conversationally.

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“I went once to the service this morning,” he replied, “and then a second time, to return someone’s umbrella I’d accidentally picked up.”

There is something compelling about the anecdotes we hear, of objects lost then rediscovered. These stories are rather like miniature fairytales, in which a perilous situation is followed by a happy ending. In a chaotic universe, it’s comforting to hear of something coming right in a completely neat and satisfying way.

This is even more the case when the object has sentimental value. Some years ago, my sister-in-law lost her silver charm bracelet. It held charms that had been given to her over time by friends and relatives, each representing something meaningful. With no memory of where she had last seen it, she had to accept that it was gone forever. That was, until a year later, when her family visited the holiday cottage they rent each winter. Her children were bouncing around on the sofa, when they knocked off one of the cushions. There, underneath, was the bracelet.

We invest a huge amount of love and meaning into certain objects, so when they disappear, so does the emotional connection we’ve invested in them: a memory of a treasured moment, perhaps, or the love of someone lost.

I spent one summer as a teenager working in the kitchens of a residential holiday camp. One day as we were clearing up from lunch, the chef realised that she had lost her engagement ring. We searched everywhere we could think of, until finally she decided she was going to have to go through the food bin. This wasn’t the average kind of bin you’d have in your own kitchen, but one containing the food waste from a lunch for sixty-odd children. The chef found her ruby ring, almost completely camouflaged inside a discarded tomato.

I feel there are many significant lessons to be derived from this and similar stories — about persistence in the face of adversity, about never giving up hope, and about taking off your jewellery before you embark on a mass catering project.

Of course, losing your possessions can be a huge problem even if you’re not emotionally attached to them. One evening, I had to fetch our seven-year-old, Boaz, from a birthday party at a soft play centre. The requirement to spend time in soft play centres is one of the serious downsides of having children. For me, the feeling of being trapped in a vast, windowless space, filled with echoing waves of excited shouting and screaming, represents a very particular kind of hell.

This visit would be OK, though — I was only picking up and shouldn’t have to spend more than ten minutes inside. Except that when I got there, Boaz informed me cheerfully that he’d lost his glasses. In the ball pool.

There was nothing for it but to climb in and start looking for them, helped by two members of staff, who were remarkably sanguine about it.

Every now and then, Boaz, who was also helping, would cry, “I’ve found them!” and we’d turn around to see that instead of holding his glasses, he was waving one of the balls about and giggling. He quickly got the message that this wasn’t the moment for practical jokes.

After some time, it became apparent that our search method wasn’t going to work. “I think the only option is to empty the balls out,” said one of the staff members, still sounding astonishingly laid back.

I’d never considered how you empty a ball pool; but if I had, I might have assumed it needed some high-tech method — a machine with a gigantic, ball-scooping mechanism, perhaps.

It turns out that the way you actually do it is by getting a load of bin bags, picking up the balls and putting them in. Do you know how many balls it takes to fill a the average ball pool in a soft play centre? I can’t give you a definite figure, but I can say with confidence that it’s “really quite a lot”. Many, many bin bags later, the pool looked exactly as full as when we’d started.

We found the glasses eventually. And when we got into the car at last, Boaz discovered a plastic whistle in his party bag — so at least we had some entertainment on the way home.




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