Gratitude towards things that serve us well

Nick Tayag

Sometime in 2004, the twin exploration rovers named “Spirit” and “Opportunity” were sent to Mars to search for evidence of water and life on Mars. Both rovers lived well beyond their planned 90-day missions. “Spirit” lasted 20 times longer than its original design. “Opportunity” worked nearly 15 years on Mars. They faithfully sent images that gave scientists the story of that planet’s watery past. So it’s not surprising that those vehicles were considered as “family” by their NASA operators and played “wake-up” songs to the two rovers as they went on with their tasks. Even the public got invested in their success and developed an affection for them. Sad to learn that they are no longer roaming around Mars.

“Family” and “affection” were probably the two reasons why both my wife and I felt quite emotional that morning when I drove our old car for the last time to bring it to its new owner.

We had that car for more than 20 years. It was a member of our household and witnessed our family’s happy and sad moments, including our family’s ordeal during Typhoon Ondoy, when our house was flooded up to our neck.

I silently thanked the car with a tender pat on the steering wheel, then told the new owner again to take care of it. I was consoled by knowing that he was our long-time mechanic and he knew that car’s history first hand.

I did the same silent gesture of thanks to our 5-year-old electric fan when I finally gave up having repaired time and again and handed it over to a junk man. It had cooled our household very well for years, especially during the hot summer days.

Just a month ago, I had to bid adieu to some favorite shirts and pants because I couldn’t hold on to them as they no longer fitted my expanding body frame. We donated them, together with other used stuff to Caritas Manila. I whispered my thanks to them with a little prayer they would be passed on to be of use to others.

Why do I speak and show affection to inanimate things? Do they have feelings? Am I being overly sentimental? Maybe you find it weird of me but I believe that the useful things that are part of our domestic and personal lives for quite a while deserve some recognition and gratitude for their service.

Gratitude and recognition here might have an odd meaning, or might not be the proper terms, especially when given to an object. But just the same, knowing that they have served us well, don’t we owe them this much?

We don’t know what these objects are thinking. They are, after all, inanimate, non-living things. But after watching the Toy Story film series, who knows?

This is not to promote animism, anthropomorphism or veneration of inanimate objects. All I’m asking is to be grateful. It doesn’t hurt.

“They also serve who only stand and wait” is the closing line of a sonnet by the 17th-century poet John Milton. These objects are deemed inanimate and cannot move on their own. But like all of us, living and non-living creatures, they also have a place in this world and they perform a service.

If we can make the effort to ask a priest to bless our new house or our new car, if we can ask a blessing for the food we are about to eat, why can’t we say thank you shoes, thank you clothes, thank you table, thank you chair, thank you broom, and so on? Why can’t I utter words like “I am grateful for your help, thank you for such a wonderful contribution?”

One other thing you may not know. Not only do they serve us well, but these non-living things also contain a piece of us.

Everything contains energy. Photographs, jewelry and any sentimental objects or personal items hold the energy of the owner. The Japanese believe that when a master potter creates a pitcher or jar, part of his expertise then lives in that object. I’m sure a careful examination of our old car will reveal that minute traces of my dried perspiration may still be in the driver’s seat; many of my fingerprints can still be found on the car keys and the surface of the steering wheel, the levers and even the sun visor.

Why not treat them like old friends who have stayed with you all these years like dependable sidekicks in your life’s journey.  After all, without their help, without their useful assistance, you would not have achieved what you have achieved at this point.

The truth is we need them and we depend on them to make our life not only more convenient and more comfortable, but to extend the boundaries of human knowledge.

If we start respecting the value and recognizing the service provided by non-living objects, then shouldn’t we value all the more the help extended by friends, partners, colleagues and subordinates in our everyday lives?

The world would be a better place if we all develop a more grateful attitude to everything in life, for life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed.

When you value something, it is only natural that you act more responsibly in maintaining its upkeep, making sure it is always in good functioning condition. My cycling enthusiast son spends a lot of time cleaning each part of his bike after his morning rounds every Saturday.

As much as possible you want to maximize their use, and not discard or dispose of them so easily on a whim, in favor of new objects of our heart’s desire.

Our piano was almost a total wreck after Ondoy. But while it was more practical to just sell it as junk, we made a decision to get it repaired by an expert piano restorer, take out the parts that needed to be replaced piece by piece. It was quite an investment but our decision gave our piano a new lease on life. It was our way of showing it respect and gratitude as a valued treasure of our family. The investment has paid off because our spirits are uplifted by the melodious notes of Chopin, Schumann and Liszt when my wife and grandchild take turns playing the piano when the mood gets them.

The other day, my wife was aghast when I told her I would be bringing my old shoes for repair. She said I should buy a new pair instead. But I love wearing those shoes and they’ve been my faithful walking companions through thick and thin. Now after being given new soles, they’re as good as new. I am happy with them.

As someone wisely said “it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”

In conclusion, for helping me craft this think piece, I like to acknowledge my ever reliable writing assistant. Thank you, Mac mini.


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