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Leisure • Culture

The Drawer of Odd Things

It’s probably in the kitchen or maybe somewhere in a corridor: the drawer with all the bits that don’t fit in anywhere else, the drawer with – among other things – plasters of different sizes, an ex’s old screwdriver, the earplugs, some masking tape, expired anti malaria pills, keys for doors to the basement in the old house, some foreign coins from countries that since changed their currency, rubber bands of various sizes, Chinese and Korean takeout menus, expired parking permits, a passport from childhood, a flashlight with dead batteries, a bottle opener, a vegetable peeler missing its blade, a retractable dog leash, blunt scissors and sticky notes encrusted with dirt.

We could – of course – bring order here. But that would be to miss the particular wisdom of unformed confusion. Even in a well-lived life, there must be things that deserve a place even if they as yet have no place, things that are waiting for a possible future to manifest their worth, things that remain as pure potential and that we would be presuming to understand the totality of life if we mercilessly threw them away.

How could we presume to know whether we might not one day need 32 pesetas, not require a course of doxycycline and not crave a midnight jajangmyeon or Kung Pao Chicken from Hamburg (where don’t presently live)? To imposer ‘order’ is to deny whatever we cannot now imagine; to tolerate a Drawer of Uncategorizable Things is to pay tribute to the ineffable contingency and mystery of existence.

What we need in a house we need no less of in a mind. Here too we should allow ourselves to accumulate ideas that we can’t – from our current vantage point – necessarily neatly place or employ. Perhaps one day we will be able to make something crucial out of our acquaintance with the paintings of Carl Heinrich Bloch, the history of Æthelberht, King of Kent, the nutritional content of pistachios, or what records were set by the 1976 East German women’s Olympic swimming team. And until we can be sure, perhaps we can allow ourselves to maintain a degree of randomness and ambiguity in our thought processes.

How impoverished our lives will end up being if we leave room in them only for those things we presently know how to understand, use or love.

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