Meaning in the Material

Paraskevoula - Bridgeport, Ohio
Entered on March 22, 2009
Age Group: Under 18
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

At sixteen I spent $258 on a jacket that by anyone but myself would be deemed completely unfit to wear. It was army green, circa the Vietnam era, embroidered with the phrase “When I Die I’ll Go to Heaven Because I’ve Already Been to Hell” surrounding a map of Vietnam and dates of service, 1967-1969. Threads came loose from the words and pictures. The silk lining was stained and torn from years of use. It was so tattered that the left pocket was no longer a pocket, but a gaping hole. And yet, I walked out of the store $258 poorer. Many people might question why I bother to buy “rundown” items sometimes from over 40 years ago. My answer is simple: I believe that certain objects have souls.

Each item is different for each person, but many of us share this common interest in cherishing certain objects. Perhaps a locket from a dead grandparent. Or even a garish knickknack given to us by a grade school friend. Whatever the case, some signifier of the past or a beloved memory. Why, though, do some of us long to engross ourselves in past items of others? When I told my friends that I bought some man’s used jacket for almost $300 they thought I’d lost it. For some reason, they could not understand the satisfaction I felt from temporarily housing myself in the life of another. Memories seem to cling to certain objects and for some, maybe their own nostalgia is not enough. Perhaps by adapting this item of the past to the present day context, a new memory is engrained into the fibers of an object already full.

The soul of an object develops slowly and with many uses. I examined the details of the jacket and pondered things like, “Maybe the left pocket is torn because that’s where this man carried his Zippo lighter.” He who owned this before put a little bit of his person into the composition of the jacket. I would eventually do the same. Maybe I would smudge the collar with bright orange lipstick, adding to this jacket’s soul. If I passed this on, someone else would receive a little bit of me.

This process of layering the new upon the old and investing feeling into a material thing is what changes a simple object into a relic or beacon. Perhaps I’m permanently fixed in the preoperational stage of psychological development and, like many six-year-olds, believe that inanimate objects have feelings. Regardless of this notion that I’m silly for thinking so, I believe that certain objects have souls. I experienced this phenomenon when I become a Vietnam Veteran for a few hours while wearing my too-expensive jacket. And I realized, this was more than just a piece of clothing.