My grandfather was a big wig, first, in the OSS and then, through the 50s and 60s, in the CIA. In fact, my last book, Operation Jedburgh, told the story of secret World War II operation that my grandfather helped oversee.
Now, I am not uncritical of the actions of the CIA through those years and certainly not lacking in introspection about my grandfather’s career. But I am, nevertheless, incredibly proud to have been his grandson (he passed in the early 80s).
Grandfa, as I called him, grew up on a farm in Ohio, raised by his mother and some uncles. His father had left. But he got himself into and through Yale University and went on to become a senior U.S. government official. Toward the end of his life, I asked him to show me his medals. Tears rolled off his chin as he showed me his Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Part of what I have left of him are his cuff links: one pair in gold, one in mother of pearl, one that are shaped like crowns with a red jewel on top. I also have another pair of cuff links that Michelle, my wife, gave me, but I only ever wear them if I’m scared of losing my grandfather’s.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the cuff links that Michelle gave me, but they just don’t carry the same meaning. Plus, I got married wearing my grandfather’s cuff links, gave my first book reading wearing them, went to every important friend or relative’s wedding or funeral wearing them.
Now, the cuff links connect my grandfather’s life with my life. They aren’t a replacement for our relationship. They are not, like so much of what we consume, a surrogate for the human bond. Instead, they serve the purpose of maintaining my relationship with my grandfather across the barrier of life and death.
This is not fanciful. I feel it when I put them on.
So in moving towards a sustainable, nondisposable economy, where products are made to last instead of being thrown away and bought again, we have a yet another opportunity. The opportunity to live a life where, by manufacturing durable products and repairing them, we get to surround ourselves with long-lived material elements of our lives that become imbued with meaning and memory.
Think of eating at a kitchen table with your grandchildren at the same table you ate with your grandmother. Think of proposing to your fiancee with the same ring your grandfather proposed to your grandmother. Think of shaving as an old man with the same razor that your dad gave you when you first learned to shave.
Think of getting, as I do, to remember your love for your grandfather and the times he made you blueberry pudding every time you get dressed up.