Lost and Found

A shattered wine glass delivers a message.

I was decluttering long before Marie Kondo-ing was a thing. Scuffed Teflon skillets, Sony Walkman, long-forgotten books. When an item outlives its usefulness, out it goes.

But some things are so treasured that losing them can feel like a slap. No matter how much we remind ourselves that these objects, too, are “just things,” their loss sinks like an anvil in our hearts and lingers, well, forever.

When I inherited my grandmother’s fine pearls at 21, I vowed to wear them every day, with everything. Along with my faded jeans, the pearls were my constant companion. They joined me walking down the Lawn at graduation, hung out with me in bars in Charlottesville, and bounced as I danced my head off at concerts. So when I became known as “the girl with the pearls,” it suited me just fine. I’d found my talisman, my defining signature. That is, until the fateful day in the parking lot at Willow Lawn when I reached for them for a reassuring pat. And they were gone. 

As I obsessed over my loss with friends, the feeling of mourning something precious seemed to resonate with them, too. “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” my friend Nancy said on a Saturday morning walk. “I tucked the family engagement ring away for safekeeping. Then, when my son wanted to get engaged, I couldn’t find it. I’ve never been so furious with myself.”

I knew how she felt. And I resolved to take better care of the things that really matter.

This worked until the other day, during the long overdue visit from Charlotte, a beloved flatmate from my long-ago London days. With pink tulips arranged in my favorite silver vase and beef bourguignon bubbling on the stove, I reached for my heavy French crystal wine glasses from their safe home in the corner cabinet. 

As I placed the glasses on the table, I remembered unwrapping them as a young bride—by far the most elegant things I had ever owned. As I admired the light playing through them, I could almost hear their familiar clink of toasts reverberating through the years. Tonight I’d catch Charlotte’s eye over their faceted lip, and we’d laugh over a story we’d told a thousand times. 

Hours later, I was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on the charcuterie board while regaling Charlotte with a ridiculous story. I looked up at her with a huge grin and, with an outsized gesture, accidentally knocked my glass off the maple countertop. The wine glass seemed to hang in the air momentarily, like a cartoon character defying gravity, before accelerating to the floor and landing with a convincing crunch. 

I shook off the loss, and we’d just settled on the porch when, jet-lagged, Charlotte reached to put her drink down and missed the table completely. The glass shattered on the tiled floor with even greater drama. “Oh good!” I murmured cheerily, ”the sign of a successful party!”

But as I swept up the pitiful shards of my treasured wine glass, I was flooded with heartache. The crystal pattern had been discontinued long ago. I’d never again have enough to grace my table. I had always talked a good game about valuing people over things. Now, it was time to walk the walk. I didn’t blame Charlotte, of course. But what about me? Shouldn’t I have been more attentive?

I stepped into the kitchen to collect myself. I could let recrimination consume me—or I could let it go. And that’s when it struck me: I was right not to save my grandmother’s pearls “for best,” or let the wine glasses gather dust on a shelf. The best way to treasure special things is to weave them into the disorderly brocade of real life. These things become beloved not because they are locked away, but because they are enjoyed—and sometimes even lost in the process.

Three days later, a Crate & Barrel box arrived with my new wine glasses. As I carefully unwrapped the first of a dozen, I admired its whisper-thin lip; long, elegant stem; and beautifully proportioned foot. Each one is perfect: easily replaceable, inexpensive, designed for sheer pleasure–and for making future memories. Like the lovely pearls my husband gave me when we were married, they’ll never replace what I once had, but they will be present for a whole new lifetime of as-yet-unimagined happiness. And, if you ask me, that’s what makes a treasure. 

This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue.

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