Sacred Objects

Make your stuff mean something.

by Cherri Ellis


I had been putting off cleaning out the guest bedroom walk-in closet for so long that moving out was beginning to seem like a viable alternative. The wire shelving had given up and ripped completely out of the sheetrock, dumping its burden onto the ground. The boxes that had been on the overhead shelves had exploded on the way down. The door stayed shut, and the smoldering wreckage of the clothing tsunami went untouched for a very long time.

Last Saturday, I suited up and went in.  Fueled by too much coffee and a plan loosely outlined on Pinterest, I sorted pieces into piles of Discard, Donate, and Display. By the project’s end, there was a fourth group of items, each of which took my breath away. There was a primary-color blocked sweater that my daughter wore in the first grade. There was a cotton baby dress so tiny it now looked like a doll’s dress. There was the pillow from her crib and a Universal Studios denim jacket in a size toddler 2. But it wasn’t all baby clothes. There was a black cocktail dress that had been professionally tailored, its nipped-in seams making it fit me like a coat of paint. These items and more went into a special box that I will save forever, but I marvel at the strength of my reaction.

When you save your kid’s clothes, you aren’t saving fabric. You are saving the feeling of a 5-year-old’s arms around your neck, fresh off the school bus and looking for a snack. Pick up the tiny baby dress and you are awash in the tremulous, beautiful feeling of holding the person who was inside your body days earlier and is now—impossibly—staring right back at you. My box of sacred objects would mean nothing to someone else who lifted its lid, but to me, the contents evoke sense memories so powerful I can feel them in my gut.

So what makes an object sacred? You do. Objects are things. They can only reflect your feelings back onto you. Thus, the power of an object is as vast your feelings toward it. My friend just had the entire set of her maternal grandmother’s china given to her, and it is an instant treasure. While its delicate patterns are not something she would have ever chosen for herself, she loves that she will always see her grandmother’s hands as she serves her own kids food at the holidays.

But more than history can make an object sacred. I have a tiny, heart-shaped pillow that my daughter made for me one early Mother’s Day. It is calico and uneven, and I love it so much that I carry it with me when I fly. For some reason, the thought of her little hands cutting the material and sewing it together into that uneven heart just dissolves me.

Imbue an object with a loving or strong intention and you have yourself a talisman.  During one of my husband’s bouts with cancer, the late, great Vestavia High School coach Sammy Dunn brought him a medallion that said, “Healing.” Sammy had originally given this medallion to his wife while she was battling breast cancer, and she had recovered. Time passed, and the tables turned to find Sammy himself battling cancer. My husband, strong again, tried to return it, but Coach Dunn wouldn’t take it. It was too near the end, and he was tired of the fight.

Unfortunately, there is plenty of cancer to go around, and so when I went into the hospital, I found it tucked into my belongings. For whatever reason, the medallion didn’t hold the same power for me that it had for my husband. He recently told me that it had hurt his feelings that it hadn’t meant more to me, but I just smiled. Going straight to a box that I keep on my mantle, I pulled out a folded-up index card that I have saved all this time. Taped in the middle of it is my fortune from the Chinese takeout we had eaten the night before my surgery. It says, “You will live a long and prosperous life.” He had written the date on the card and propped it up by my bed so that I would see it first thing every morning. That was my talisman from him. Sacred objects are formed in the eye of the beholder.

So surround yourself with objects that reflect beautiful feelings. Wear the scarf your sister picked out for you. Serve snacks on a tray your mom brought you from vacation. Keep your daughter’s baby shoes on the bookshelf, and touch them as you pass.  Play your cards right and keep your heart open, and you can feel surrounded by love all the time.

Or maybe I’m a just a fledgling hoarder.

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