Sometimes a particular watch becomes part of your persona. You remember the time you bought it, the reaction of the people who noticed it, and the joy you experienced when they actually recognized what it represented. Such was the case with my iconic Dali watch. It was an homage to Salvador Dali’s melting watches, and became the watch I wore almost exclusively. I spotted it in a small boutique in Toronto about 25 years ago, and had to have it. The watch cost $35.00, which was totally affordable. People noticed it right away, and I was tickled pink when my one and only granddaughter at the time, whom I accompanied on her first-grade trip, exclaimed to her classmates, “my grandmother has a Dali watch.” They were studying art and saw some of Salvador Dali’s melting watch pictures, and recognized the style.
Many years have passed since, and I changed many batteries and watch straps. The current strap was red, getting scuffed, and was ready for another change. Rarely a day went by that someone did not notice the watch on my arm, and even if they did not recognize the origin of the design, they commented on the unusual shape and how it fits my personality. I still cannot believe the carelessness I exhibited a few weeks ago when I used the lockers at the swimming pool where I swim almost daily. The lockers are perfectly safe. I place my belongings in one, lock it, and take the key. I place my valuables on the top shelf, and sometimes some parts of my clothing as well. On that fateful day, I got dressed, and wanted to get home fast, since I had a supervision session. I did not practice mindfulness. I was what is called colloquially “scatterbrained.” No until I was halfway home in the cab did I look for the time, at which point I realized that my watch had stayed behind in the locker. I called the pool, gave them the locker number, and asked them to retrieve it for me to pick up the following day.
That is when the saga began. As soon as I arrived, I approached the workers and they showed me a collection of watches, sunglasses and other odds and ends which were kept in a box under the counter. Needless to say, my watch was not among them. The manager came, and said, “yes, I found the watch, and placed it right here…” then frowned. “Someone may have placed it somewhere else. I will check with all the night staff.” For the next almost two weeks I pestered the staff every time, which was about 4 times a week, and the answer was always the same: “We still haven’t reached everyone.” And then, 2 days ago one of the workers told me “We now know what happened.” I was hoping to see him handing me the watch, but… and here is the story: The night cleaner found the watch on the counter, and looked at it. It looked to her like a distorted watch. As if someone had stepped on it and it lost its normal round shape. It is true that there was a crack on the watch face, which could not be fixed or replaced, but it worked fine. She did not try to find out if it worked, she simply threw it in the trash. By the time everyone was asking about the watch, the trash was long gone and my beloved Dali watch had probably gone through the garbage compactor.
As you can see, one person’s art is another person’s garbage. There is a familiar saying “Art is in the eye of the beholder.” This brings me to reflect on how I and the cultural background I come from see and value art. On the face of it there is perhaps a division based on education between people who recognize and appreciate art in all its forms, and those who do not. But is this true? People who are educated differently from me may also appreciate art, though perhaps not the same art I prefer. Perhaps I would have thrown in the trash some item that is considered art or an item representing an art form which is not familiar to me, but was valued by the owner. Cultural awareness is on everyone’s lips today. We are lectured to be compassionate and aware of cultural sensitivities of “the other,” to beat our chests for the hurts “our” culture inflicted. But the root of the problem as I see it stems from stereotyping people. We do that by race, economic standing, gender, education, profession, and all the other stereotypes which divide people into groups of us and them.
I must confess, as much as I pride myself on being open, curious, and accepting of all people, and willing to feel empathy with their story, the first thought that came to my mind was to doubt the story about trashing the watch and think that perhaps she liked the watch, and pocketed it. The young man must have seen the skepticism on my face and told me he knows the person to be responsible and honest. I am confessing to my embarrassment. My father, who was a great storyteller, told of a believer in a village who left his shoes outside the mosque when he entered it, as it is customary. When he came out after prayers and looked for his shoes, they were gone. In a loud raging voice, he declared: “If my shoes are not returned, I will do what my father did!” A poor man brought back the shoes and inquired, “please tell me what did your father do?” “He went home barefoot,” said the believer.
That is exactly the way I am going home – watch-less. Perhaps this experience will finally teach me the lesson of being permanently attentive and mindful, rather that forgetful and distracted. It is especially important when I perform simple, familiar, and routine tasks.
PS – I found a whole line of Dali watches for sale online. Maybe I will splurge and buy one, even if it is not exactly like the one I had and sells for 10 times the amount I originally spent. This is my birthday present for myself, and I’d better watch out…