Symbols

Around here … in North Orange County, California … we see quite a few carsnotw with a decal in the rear window like the one on the right.  Always curious, I Googled it and found it stands for Not Of This World, which is either a quote from Jesus (My kingdom is not of this world … John 18:36). a song by Christian rock group, Petri, or the logo of a so-called Christian clothing line.  I say so-called because the notion of clothing being Christian puzzles me.   The decal of a child kneeling star of davidbefore a cross is also quite popular here.  It’s likely you’re familiar with the crescent and star, a symbol for Islam, and the Star of David, a symbol for Judaism.  IfHinduSwastika.svg you found yourself behind a car displaying a swastika, you’d likely be aghast but the symbol was originally associated with the higher self in Hinduism.   Non-religious movements frequently adopt symbols as well.  You may have seen the less common triangle within a circle and aa symbolwondered what it represents.  It is the symbol of Alcoholics Anonymous. with the three sides of the triangle standing for Unity, Service and Recovery.  The symbol for Al-Anon, the 12-Step program for friends and families of alcoholics is a circle inside a triangle.  The peace sign, long identified with pacifist movements throughoutpeace the world, was designed for the British Nuclear Disarmament movement based on the semaphore signals for the letters N and D.  Such symbols seem to me to be logos or trademarks, a means of advertising affiliation without much personal meaning.   Yes, I know.  That’s just me.

In the essay for last Friday in The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo considered another kind of symbol.  People have always saved scraps of their experience to remind them of the forces of life that can’t always be seen, he says.  It is why we treasure certain songs, why we save ticket stubs and dried out flowers.  Of these personal symbols, he says, All we have to do is rub them slowly, and feelings and times long gone come and live again, or basic truths hard to keep return to view.  He tells a story of a milk-white candy dish at his grandfather’s house that was always filled with M&M’s, a simple magical treasure, he says.  It has been thirty years since he died, and now when I’m depressed, I hold that milk-white bowl in my lap and eat a few M&Ms.  And I feel better.

I am a saver of mementos … my office is cluttered with them.  There are souvenirs from favorite vacations and dried flowers from my daughter’s wedding.  There are small stones from places I’ve been, a bottle of sand from our honeymoon, and a shell casing from the 21-gun salute at my Dad’s burial.  Mostly, they collect dust.  I never thought to hold them, to feel what Nepo calls the unbearable meaning for us.  Friday, I stopped reading and went to my office with a particular item in mind.  It was a small piece of jade that Muritouchstone and I brought back from California for my mother in 1970.  She was fond of worry-stones and this one, which came in a small suede bag, had a perfect thumb-sized indent on one side.  It became her favorite, always on the tier table next to he favorite chair.  I found it on my shelf and sat holding it, rubbing it the way she would.  And there she was, sitting in her chair, fingering the very same stone, a small bemused smile on her face as she enjoyed the sometimes quirky antics of her family.  I could literally feel her in a way I haven’t in a long time.  This is the proper use of symbols, Nepo says, not to coldly represent ideas, but to call into being all that lives in and about us.

What could be that kind of symbol for you?

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2 Comments on “Symbols”


  1. “I found it on my shelf and sat holding it, rubbing it the way she would. And there she was, sitting in her chair, fingering the very same stone, a small bemused smile on her face as she enjoyed the sometimes quirky antics of her family. I could literally feel her in a way I haven’t in a long time.”

    Awww. Bud. That made me well up with tears.


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