Back in 1984, when I turned 12, my mother took me to Aljans, the local jewelry store, to pick out a chain for my birthday.
After sorting through options, I settled upon a silver chain with a blue Jewish star. I don’t recall why I selected that particular one, but it felt right. Alice, the shop’s owner, advised us to buy it large, so we did. And for years the star hung halfway down my torso, until I started to grow and grow and grow.
Through the years, I rarely removed the chain. I was wearing it for my first half marathon, for my first dance, for my Bar Mitzvah, for my first kiss, for my high school and college graduations, for my first day of college, for the death of my grandparents, for my first date with my wife, for my wedding, for the birth of my children, for my hiring at The Tennessean and Sports Illustrated, for thousands of pickup basketball games. For highs. For lows. I grew, I aged, I gained weight and lost weight.
The chain, through it all, was eternally there.
Earlier this evening, the wife and I went to a nearby beach with some friends. At one point everyone went into the ocean, and—after stalling—I pulled my shirt over my head and jumped in. The water was usually warm. The sky was a perfect blue. It encompassed all the reasons I wanted to move to Southern California. Pure beauty and outdoor adventure. Later, we climbed over some rocks and up a pretty steep hill. My hands covered in dirt, I gazed out over the Pacific, more at ease and content than I had been in many moons.
Then, a few hours later, it hit me: My chain was gone.
I looked everywhere. Pockets. Collars. I dug through sand. Moved chairs. Asked others for help.
I am, truly, devastated. The chain symbolized so much for me. I always liked the idea of passing it on to one of my kids; to having it ride with me through all of life.
And yet … as down as I am, I’m also reminded of an occurrence from seven or eight years ago, when our elderly neighbors moved from New Rochelle, N.Y. to San Diego. One of the men left behind a bunch of personal items—a high school diploma, a yearbook. So I called and said, “Joe, do you want me to mail you these things?”
He didn’t pause. “It’s just stuff,” he replied. “Not life.”
My chain is gone.
But I’m living.