Kemper: What we take with us

Kemper Fi

I have a hard time letting go of things.

A quick look around my room seems to prove as much: the three foot stack of Economists accumulates in my closet, the rugby uniform from sophomore year hangs on my door, the old books of poetry I checked out last October are still on my desk, the candle I got from 64 High Street sits on my wardrobe, and a pile of Starbucks cups from a field trip last fall rests in my recycling bin.

Every time I write a paper I have to create a new document to save every sentence I delete. I have about 10 half written columns on my hard drive. I even have a collection of stones from around the world, which is problematically unlabeled.

Haircuts are devastating.

I wish my hoarding habit came from a keen economic instinct, whereby one day I will have a collection of priceless antiques; or from an environmental impulse, which will allow me one day to put each object to some ingenious alternative use. But I suspect it is more a function of an undisciplined sentimentality.

It is not just stuff that falls into my sentimental trap, but also less material possessions. I still play a song on my violin I learned when I was in fifth grade. I try to hold onto quotes, marking them up in books or writing them down on post it notes and pasting them on my wall.

Part of my sentimental hoarding may be explained by a yearning to know what comes next. The Aymara, a tribe in Bolivia, say the past is in front of us and the future behind. Subsequently, we gaze into the past and blindly stumble into the future. I look at all that which I have not let go of and I see my past. It makes it difficult to see the future.

I have tried to rein in my sentimentality by putting myself in situations where I am forced to leave things behind. I traveled to the most foreign place I could think of — Yemen — my freshmen summer. I often go long periods of time without calling family and friends. I plan to spend next summer in the wilderness. But I always come back — or find myself holding some part of that which I thought I had left behind.

So when a friend asked me what I want to hold on to when I leave college, the answer should be easy. Everything. Duh.

The friend explained he had a similar problem. If you want to hold onto “Yale,” consider the possibilities: it is not just the nights out drinking. We can do that anywhere (though after graduating some may start calling it alcoholism). It is not the classes or learning — we can still take those. And it is not the friends, either — we do not stop being friends after we receive our diploma.

In fact it is possible to recreate and keep almost all the constituent parts — physical, spiritual and otherwise — of Yale after leaving. Some call it graduate school.

But I also have a tendency to lose things. I forget, I neglect, or I just misplace.

I lost my wallet in eighth grade when I left it on top of my car. I lost my wallet again, this time along with my cell phone and car keys, when I stowed them under a bush before running a 5k. I accidentally dunked my cell phone and a book in a lake last summer. Now I check my pockets compulsively before I walk out a door.

While the things I seem to lose are practical and important in my everyday life, they are also not objects that define me as a person or shape my character. Everyone carries a wallet, a phone, a set of keys. But because everyone has them, nobody owns them, at least in a spiritual sense.

This idea recalls that tired story about two fish swimming along when an old fish asks them: “How is the water?” They swim on a bit until one exclaims to the other, “What water?” We do not value that which is ubiquitous. I have a hard time choosing what to hold onto because for the next three weeks, at least, I still have it.

So what will I hold onto from Yale? I probably cannot take all my hoarded objects with me. But in any case, it is not the objects themselves that truly have value, but the memories and experiences they evoke. And I will be happy if I can hold onto as many of those as I can.

Nicolas Kemper is a senior in Pierson College. This is his final staff column for the News.

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