A lesson on impermanence from a ruined baseball

My dog, an oft-naughty Boston Terrier named Batgirl, recently taught me an important lesson about clinging to clutter, attachment, and the real value of memories. How?

She ruined an irreplaceable baseball that I loved.

In late 2011, my brother-in-law and I took a road trip to Boston. We went to watch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. I love the Sox and typically attend a game or two per season. My brother-in-law is also a die-hard fan, but he hadn’t attended a game since childhood (we’re both in our 40s now). The trip was a big deal; we had never gone together and he hadn’t been in decades.

Plus, my brother-in-law was dealing with stresses at home and the game was an opportunity to shut that off for a while. We wedged our widening backsides into plastic chairs, over paid for hot dogs, and engaged in the overtly American tradition of watching millionaires hit a ball with a stick for our amusement.

Then the game went south.

The opposing team scored early. And often. The Sox answered by not scoring, which, for those unfamiliar with professional sports, is the textbook wrong way of doing things. A Red Sox comeback seemed possible, then improbable, then all but impossible. My brother-in-law joked that every time he visited Fenway as a kid, the Sox lost. It seemed his streak would remain intact, and it did.

As the game came to its inevitable conclusion, it was announced that we were a part of Red Sox history. Although our beloved team had lost, that game was the 700th consecutive sellout at Fenway Park. All attendees would receive a commemorative baseball upon exiting the park. We were thrilled to have a keepsake, even if the team lost, because of this historic accomplishment and our afternoon spent together. The ball I got sat on my desk for months.

Last weekend, my son was tossing it around and left it on the floor. A few hours later, I found it as you see it above. Much like Boston’s 2012 baseball season, the ball is done. My immediate reaction was one of despair. “Oh, that dumb dog! She’s destroyed that ball! How I loved it and that day at the park! Now it’s ruined.”

As I wailed and gnashed my teeth, I paused and remembered a great quote from American psychiatrist Mark Epstein. In his book Thoughts Without A Thinker, he relates a wonderful story about a glass:

“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

The ball itself isn’t what was important. All of the memories I relayed in this article I conjured up without it. The ball is now in the trash bin; the memories and emotions of that day are in me. When I realize the ball is chewed, or my life is short, I’m reminded every moment with it was precious.

It’s often hard to part with items of important emotional significance. I’m keenly aware of this and struggle with it all the time. I mean, I need every picture my kids drew of the two of us holding hands under a rainbow! Or do I? I can feel the rainbow, the sun, and my girl’s love without the paper and her Crayon art. The drawing is nice to have, but I know it and all of my possessions won’t be around forever.

27 Comments for “A lesson on impermanence from a ruined baseball”

  1. posted by Rachael on

    How beautifully written! I got goosebumps reading Achaan Chaa’s words.

  2. posted by Aviva Goldfarb on

    This is really lovely and so important to remember!

  3. posted by Celeste on

    In this situation, I ask myself if the house was on fire, would I run back into the burning building to retrieve the item?

    The answer is always, always no.

  4. posted by Q on

    You see this Red Sox fan? He is already broken.

  5. posted by Michelle on

    Ahhh, yes. My 5-year old Boston Terrier is my main motivator for clearing the clutter and breaking my long-held sentimental attachment to things. I bring less stuff into my house, am more ruthless when sorting through old things, and am better about putting items back where they belong. Everything, and I mean everything, must be looked at as a potential chew toy. It’s a constant struggle but he more than makes up for it in snuggles. 🙂

  6. posted by ET on

    Beautiful insight into the true “valuables” of life vs. the “stuff” we just associate with it.

  7. posted by Dusty on

    This was touching. And the Boston Baseball season shot was funny too. Great read!

  8. posted by laura on

    This is sooo true. This site has already helped me learn about sentimental clutter and that grandma’s dishes are not my grandma and the wonderful memories I have of her. I also learned this when pulling my wedding gown out of storage in a tempory home we lived in while we built a new house. Despite being in a cedar trunk a mouse had gotten in and built a nest in the train. After the initial gasp and a bit of disappointment, I realized that dress is not my 16 years of marriage….it was not heirloom quality and will probably never be worn again. I’m still married though and that is what matters.

  9. posted by Jude2004 on

    As the mother of three kids in college, I’d say that you need to keep at least something from your children’s childhoods. As a single mother, raising them was extremely challenging, but being left behind is interesting. I wrote down as many cute things that they said then as I could–about the core of the earth being the earth’s yolk. I got rid of most of it, but yeah, I’m glad I have what I’ve kept.

  10. posted by Dave on

    Jude2004, believe me, I’m definitely keeping a few favorites from my kids.

  11. posted by Magill on

    Whoa…a Boston Terrier who sounds like a Yankees fan.

  12. posted by Zac Hunter on

    Reminds me of a similar moment in my life that started my uncluttering streak. I was in my early 20s and my family was splitting up (my parents mind you). I come from a family of near hoarders and we were in the process of boxing up all the knick knacks and junk in our garage. This was an enterprise that covered the entire driveway with boxes. At 22 I must have had 30+ boxes of my own junk. One box held a commemorative Guinness pint glass from some event. It was something I cherished and reminded me of a great moment with friends. I took care to wrap it in paper and pack it on the top of the box. You see where this is going…

    I was so hung up on keeping everything that even a small stray glass marble couldn’t be left behind. I absentmindedly tossed it into one of my many boxes and heard a shattering noise. Yes, I had broken the meticulously wrapped Guinness glass. I broke down. It opened the flood gates on what was happening with my family and our home. But it also made me realize that all this stuff was just…stuff. It was a lesson in detachment. Later that night was the opening night for the movie Fight Club which just solidified everything.

    It took me a few more years to really learn to let go keeping things for sentimentality or the possibility of needing it someday in the future but I know that that moment started it all for me.

  13. posted by Zac Hunter on

    BTW I now live with an English Bull Terrier hell bent on reminding me of the impermanence of all things via chewing and shredding. So there is that…

  14. posted by Kalani on

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve been a reader of Unclutterer for a long time, and without fail, the most difficult things to get rid of in the house are those that hold such memories, even if I never look at the object. There are useful items, and there are items that have no use, only beauty, and there are items whose beauty lies locked away in a box and we still cannot let go. And none of those objects actually hold the love or the memory or that we cherish. This is a beautiful post, and one I will think about as I am in the process of merging households.

  15. posted by ArtGal on

    Ah yes…the Boston Terrier…or as we like to call ours, the “Boston Terror!” Gotta love ’em 🙂

  16. posted by Jeff Bronson on


    Well written.
    Or do we need every greeting card we are given?

    The less stuff I have, the happier I get. I take pleasure in finding things to get rid of, so I can focus on what I deep important.

  17. posted by JC on

    I am gradually letting go of “things” that are not useful, beautiful or bring me pleasure. I finally told my mother that I was giving some of the lovely holiday crafty things that she had made me to the thrift store because I never took the time to hang them up. She said that she had realised that a couple years ago and that’s why she had stopped making them for me. Smart and understanding mother. I do have others things she has made that I love and use on a regular basis. I try to repurpose sentimental things. My Grandpa fed my children cookies when they came to visit- one of the things they remember most about him. We don’t often eat cookies so his cut-glass cookie jar sits on our kitchen shelf full of “beautiful rocks” DS has found for me over the years and the agates I found while walking the beach with Grandpa. I store my buttons in the small wooden chests of drawers he kept his fish hooks in. Other sentimental things are passed on to others, like most of the dresses I have made DD over the years.
    Aside from pets, children are very good at teaching this same lesson. My children have broken special bowls, spilled liquids, and marked in books when young. You learn to let things go, and children learn about being more careful, apologizing and forgiveness.

  18. posted by Carole on

    Excellent post. You will always have the memory,and your dog seems to have had a great time playing with the ball. Win. Win.

  19. posted by Julie Bestry on

    Very touching and evocative. Thank you for the Achaan Chaa quote.

  20. posted by Anna on

    Great post; sad Sox fan here. Reading the wonderful quote from Mark Epstein, I immediately thought that we can extend his thoughts to our friends and the people we love. Very likely, perhaps inevitably, they will move away, or die, or otherwise become inaccessible, so let’s value our moments together while we have them.

  21. posted by lisa on

    Really great post! I think as humans we want tangible proof of our existence. That our experiences are real and important. If we could pin them all like a butterfly collection, I’m sure we would. Isn’t that what photos are? I feel guilty sometimes that I have NO videos of my children and not a lot of photos necessarily either. They’re school aged now. And it’s not because I don’t love them or find them worthy or beautiful, it’s that I want to be present in the moment. I don’t want to be scrambling for equipment or view a really touching moment from behind a lens. That said, I know they love seeing photos of themselves in their younger years. It helps them to form the story of who they are. We value stories and use those visual symbols to keep them from being forgotten.
    I’ll be thinking about this for awhile.

  22. posted by gabe on

    Wow! I needed this. I’m going through the mixed feelings of selling the house where we raised our 3 kids. Now I realize the memories are in me and not in the house. Thanks!

  23. posted by Carol C on

    Your best post ever! I particularly love the quote. Wonderful guidance as I seek the path to an uncluttered life.

  24. posted by Manda on

    I understand the uncluttering lesson to be learned here, but you have to admit it’s funny that a dog named Batgirl would go after a baseball.

  25. posted by Rally on

    My mom told me a story many years ago – not sure if it’s true, but I like the sentiment. Supposedly, Vincente Minelli (the director) found Sophia Loren crying because someone had stolen some diamonds from her dressing room, and said to her, “Never cry over anything that can’t cry over you.”

  26. posted by Jan Shivley on

    Even from generations of ‘keepers’ I usuaslly really like your post and am learning about simplifing and the benefits. I must take excetion with this last post and the untasker about the sterling baby cup.

    First of all I beg you not to get rid of those photos of you child and family. I am a first time Grandmother at almost 65. I can’t wait to show our grandson tons of pictures of his Mother playing in the dirt, giggling till our sides split. Unfortunately we really do forget lots of those moments. It is my biggest delight to get pictures out and remember one of those fun days.

    Also, I do really think some of those moments of special times are to be treasured. I have one of my mother’s crocheted pieces hung in a frame with a beautiful necklace she wore. Every time I walk by it I appreciate her skill in the beautiful pieces she made by hand. So much of the talent with craftmanship of the past is gone forever and that makes me sad. I think we should appreciate others beautiful work. I also love old pocket watches and make jewelry pieces from those and other antique items. The inside of some of those watches are so beautifully engraved and usually no one but the repair man saw this work on the inside. These engravers were just proud of a job well done. You can see a few of these on my facebook page http://www.facebook.com/#!/pag.....3078652737 or website zoftidoll.com.

    Now about the sterling baby cup. I am trying not to be one of those overindulgent grandparents and it is difficut. My daughter helps with that, not wanting a lot of stuff or too many toys. I did send her a post of your that was very gracious about grandparents and gifts and you did advise to mostly take it and say thank you…I loved that one. But the sterling baby cup is such a tradition for some families. We did get a very lovely little cup for our grandson and they actually used it with him as he was learling to eat table food and before he was old enough to do the sippy cup on his own. He can use it again when adjusting from a sippy cup and having dinner with the family. They are ususally monogramed and something they will know as adults was chosen especially for them, as a bit of an extravagance from a grandparent…who adores them and celebrates their birth. What I think I am saying I believe there are some things worth keeping and passing onto the next generation to appreciate.

    Again, keep those pictures! your memory will fade over time and you will have so many memories some of them do get crowded out and it may take a picture to actually bring that back to the surface.

    Thank you for usually understanding both sides of these issues. I do love to read your post.
    Jan Shivley (Grammy Sugar)

  27. posted by Mark on

    What a wonderful post. I need your help though. Do you have any tips for transferring the trigger that those items are for precious memories to new places/ items? I hate clutter and am happy to throw out every keepsake I own, but I would love to find a new way to conjure up those nostalgic memories at unplanned intervals.

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