Some time ago, I wrote about the fire that raged its way to within a mile of my parents’ house, and how it made me think about what in that house is truly important to me. Last week, I got yet another sharp reminder of where my priorities should be. (Why is it that whenever we think we’ve grasped a lesson, it still comes back to hit us over the head time and time again?)

On Friday, my husband called me after his bachelor party river rafting experience, breathless and excited from the sheer reckless exhilaration of it all. After talking to him for about five minutes, he tentatively said, “I have some kind of bad news.”

“Oh yeah?,” I said, “what’s that?,” thinking maybe someone’s camera had fallen in the river or something.

His sheepish, quiet reply was slow in coming. “Well, my wedding ring fell off in the river.”

I’ll spare you the details of my response, but needless to say, I was upset. A lot upset, especially since he seemed so damn calm, having already done his panicking hours earlier when he first realized it was gone. After we got off the phone, I tried not to think about it too much, but the memory of it was like a sore tooth or a hangnail — I tried to avoid it, yet kept coming back to worry at it, over and over again.

Finally, it sunk in that what really hurt was not the ring itself — that is just a hunk of gold, one which can be replaced. No matter that the price of said metal has doubled since we bought it a year ago, that’s still only money. No, what hurt the most was the concept of the ring, and what it represents. It is such a small thing (or too big, in this case), and yet it stands for so much. That particular hunk of metal is symbolic of the vows I entered into last October, of the promises I made and the life we are creating together. Along with our wedding video (which disappeared when my hard drive was wiped earlier in the year), our children will never be able to see the ring that I originally gave their father on our wedding day. That is what shook me most of all.

And yet, in the end, it is still just a piece of metal, albeit one with a whole heap of emotions and significance piled on top of it. Although it is lost, what it symbolized still remains. And I’d do well to remember that it could have been my husband that fell into the river that day. So in the end, a ring is a small, ultimately replaceable, yet still very tragic thing to lose.

So even with all the talking I’ve done about reassessing the true value of my possessions, in the end it is just that: talk. I am definitely not above putting disproportionate weight on material things. Really, deep down I think few people can ever be. But it’s nice to have small reminders like that every once in a while, so that when the big things (like house fires) come around, you are better prepared to deal with their impact.

Ironically enough, earlier that day I had written an email on this very subject to the director of the Sputnik documentary I worked on a couple years ago. He had a house fire back in February, which destroyed many irreplaceable artifacts of a long and very productive film career. He sent me the video of a talk he gave at TED a few weeks after the fire, which was entitled “On Losing Everything.” I responded with a story about my parents’ house, and how it made me realize what really mattered in life, etc etc.

Then, just a few hours after writing that email, I was devastated by the loss of my husband’s ring. Not my husband himself, not even anything irreplaceable, and definitely not everything I owned or had worked on for the past thirty years.

Isn’t it funny how quickly we lose perspective, no matter how hard-won it may have been?

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