Monday over Coffee: Souvenir

Need a Word of Encouragement?


I’m generally called upon to lead more memorial services than weddings, but recently I officiated a wedding and was reminded how crucial it is to exuberantly celebrate moments of great import in a memorable way. Extraordinary occasions deserve to be marked with extraordinary measures. 

Having said this, it is often the case that big moments in our lives are marked in a more serendipitous manner. A particular pop song came on my car radio as Kelly and I, with some trepidation, pulled away from Methodist Hospital during the first week of October 1998, heading home with our first child, Hank. As such, whenever I hear Save Tonight by the Swedish singer, Eagle Eye Cherry, I’m happily taken back to that momentous episode.

Likewise, if I cast my eyes around my desk, I see little objects from my past — personal souvenirs from my life. I have a chunk of stone from the exterior of the home I grew up in on Little John Lane, a small part of a step from a Montgomery Ward’s escalator which was an exhibit from a case I tried in Beaumont, and a well-worn baseball from my son Charlie’s little league days.

As we roll onward toward the end of 2020, I’ve wondered what our lasting memories of this calendar year might be. For many of us, what will stay with us is the grief experienced, but maybe also a knowledge that the sorrow was bravely endured. We might hold on to the sadness of a dashed or delayed dream, but perhaps there will also be a recollection of the fortitude that emerged in response to these challenges. It’s quite possible our recall will be populated by a blur of images from endless Zoom meetings or the stifling feeling of a face mask, but what we might just as likely remember is how, with agility, remarkable pluck, and our own wits, we adjusted and just rolled with it. 

What images, feelings, and objects will stick over time is anyone’s guess, and some of what we’ll recall depends on how things in the near future unfold. But what if we marked the approaching turn in the calendar in a way that creates a valuable memory to carry into the future? We’re certainly not ready for a flamboyant event or heavily-attended celebration, but give some thought to selecting or even creating an emblematic object as a memorial to what was endured, a souvenir of sorts reflecting what was overcome. 

The word souvenir has taken on a bit of a shoddy connotation, but it is derived from the Latin subvenire, meaning ‘to arise to mind.’ It’s meant to carry more rhetorical heft than a knick-knack from the gift shop. It’s a remembrance — an object to call back a specific memory. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a professor of psychology at Claremont University and co-wrote a book called, The Meaning of Things. “We use objects,” he wrote, “as a bridge to another person or to another feeling.” Tangible things can be a repository on which we project meaning that transcends their ‘thing-ness.’ In his research, he found that, “People who said they didn’t have any special objects turned out not to have any special relationships either.” Rather than serving as a poor substitute for human connection or the connections borne of important events, he’s convinced that such souvenirs instead amplify those connections.

So give such an artifact some thought, selecting it carefully, then transforming it into a meaningful symbol of your endurance, your moxie, your self. Plant a tree. Write a Scripture on a face mask and put it in a special box or even frame it. It’s up to you, but with mindful intent we can assert a measure of form and content to our memories, investing a store of value in them such that they might, in the future, strengthen us, energize us, or simply remind us of what we courageously traversed together.

God — 
Some things are just things, until they’re not. Lead me toward an extraordinary souvenir which, in future days, I will hold, and know my mettle.


—Greg Funderburk 

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