Saving the World, One Stick of Secret at a Time

This morning I dropped the deodorant. The stubby travel-size stick at the end of its life broke into three pieces no bigger than nickels. The next moment, I was fitting them back into the tube, assembling them like puzzle pieces. At which point I tapped myself on the shoulder. What are you doing? Are you actually going to use it this way? Clutch a nub each morning and rub it crumbling into your pits? Let it die in peace. 

It was a close one. But why the struggle? What am I really trying to save? Money? The environment? My conscience? My past? The frugal girl my mother would approve of?

This tendency to save runs in the family. My sister called me a couple of weeks ago to tell me about her fall cleaning initiative. Apparently the last time she’d visited Mom and the Guru, Susan had consulted our mother regarding her decision to put ten years’ worth of National Geographic in the recycle bin. All she’d wanted was the maternal nod. “She looked at me like a deer in headlights,” Susan reported later of our mother.  “And she said, ‘Well, I have ours from 1965.'”

So I am genetically disposed to keeping things. Looking beyond one generation, I could blame my Yankee heritage. There is that old joke about a drawer filled with string, the drawer labeled “pieces of string too short to keep.”

I could blame my grandfather on The Guru’s side. For him it was more of a salvage yard mentality. He was an electrical engineer, and made things from scratch, like instruments to measure whatever you wanted to measure, and prank telephones that would ring when someone entered a room. Nothing couldn’t be built without rusty parts, a soldering iron and a few rolls of black electrical tape. He collected metal scraps like I collect quotes and images.To be turned into something greater than the sum of their parts.

I am afraid of losing my memory, which is triggered visually. I bought that mini-deodorant for a weekend in New York City exactly a year ago. It’s nice to think about. Artist Kim Howard, a best-selling children’s book illustrator whose travel journal-writing class I took to write a profile for Sun Valley Magazine, said of the journal, in a clever double entendre, “It’s a way of saving my life.”

The deodorant won’t save my life. And it won’t save the world. But I want to perpetuate its usefulness because there is a part of me that wishes I lived beyond the reach of disposable plastic containers. To reach the end of one is to be reminded that I do not have that freedom.

I want to put the fragments of deodorant in the drawer marked “fragments of deodorant too small to save.” I don’t want anything to be expendable. Any thing, any moment. Because it means that I might be, too. Residing in some cosmic drawer labeled, “fragments of organic product too small to save.” I want everything to be bigger than itself. And each moment–except the ones that involve crying, or being locked out of the house by your three year-old (see yesterday’s post)–to last forever.

But sometimes you have to let a stick of deodorant just be a stick of deodorant.  March out into the day smelling socially acceptable, without white gunk under your fingernails. Pitch the bits, and start fresh.

What do you save, and why?

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