Essays About

The Poignancy of the Particular

Today while reading a book by Santayana, acquired from my late grandfather's library, I found an old hotel receipt folded in fourths.

Park Royal Hotel
23 W 73rd Street
New York, NY
Mr. O.E. Stimpson
Apartment 1214
July 21, 1961

I imagine my grandfather, not much older than I am now, reading Santayana by his hotel window, above the muffled shouts and beeping of New York streets. He marks his place with his receipt, but fifty years later, I, not he, resume his reading.

A crumbling receipt is a durable memento precisely through not intending to be. Posed photographs of my grandfather merely link me to his generic representation, but a dated scrap of paper captures the real man, caught unawares in a moment of casual existence.

Likewise, antiquity's great monuments are not as touching as the hair combs, spoons, and wash basins dug up from buried villages by archaeologists. By recalling the dead in their ordinary lives, the least significant objects make the most significant memorials. The present's routines become the future's relics.