Years ago my wallet was stolen out of my car. In it were mostly replaceable things. Things that when you realize what it's going to take to replace them you cuss a little and then start the process of replacing them. But one thing in my wallet was irreplaceable. I didn't cuss about this thing, but winced, and sighed, because there was no process to start. It was gone.
It was the only physical thing I had from my grandfather; a scapular. Scapulars are silken "necklaces" worn by Catholics under their clothes. Some don't wear them but carry them in *safe* places, such as in their wallets. My dad's dad had given it to him, and he gave it to me as a token of my having become a man. Ideally, despite not being Catholic, I would have given it to my son at the same point in his life.
But instead I gave it involuntarily to a desperate stranger who couldn't care less about any of this.
Weeks after it was stolen an old man with a white beard and red overalls knocked on my front door bearing gifts. When I opened the door he said,
"This seems to belong to you."
He handed me my grocery rewards card, some other cards, and the driver's license I had already requested a replacement for. He said he rides his bike everywhere, and saw my stuff on the side of the road on a recent ride, just three miles away from my house. But Bicycle Santa hadn't seen my wallet.
I asked him for the specific location and bolted out the door, yelling thank you over my shoulder.
I searched that wooded, thicketed spot next to the highway for nearly an hour. I imagined the thief had pulled my credit cards and cash from the wallet and then chucked it out the window. I searched and searched, sweating and bleeding, back and forth, as cars roared by.
There's no happy ending here. I drove away without having found it—which was like losing it a second time. All these years later, it still stings a bit to think about. Not just because I don't have that little heirloom, or because I still see that sweet, bearded, St. Nick Cyclist on the road several times a year. It pains me because my wallet and the scapular it holds are very likely still around.
In fact, I've probably driven by it thousands and thousands of times over the years. It didn't wink out of existence when it went wherever it went. It became hidden from me, just down the road. I'm probably within walking distance of it as I write this.
I find some consolation in the fact that this is the case with all loss. It's not that whatever—or whoever—it was has ceased to exist when "taken" from me. It's just no longer in my possession or control—and probably never really was. It's a silly illusion to think that something being in my butt pocket versus being somewhere in town changes its value anyway. Maybe all loss and death are about things being hidden, even if not all that far away.
So, I tell myself that I keep my grandfather's scapular just down the road, in an old wallet to keep it safe. It's never far from me. I do a similar bit of acceptance work when it comes to people I can't get to anymore despite wishing I could. And I can just tell my son that there's a bit of family history hiding just off the road somewhere here in town, and that its his, but its also everyone else's too.
While I'm at it, I'll tell him to remember to lock his doors. You know, to save him some of the headaches that come with that pesky illusion of possession.