The Gift of Irresponsible Loss

I lost a few things when I was a kid…a sweater, a few combs, my Popeye lunchbox. It went with the age, an unwelcome step toward maturity and becoming one of those responsible people. Losing things is as old as the first wacko perspective someone had on an issue.

Teaching middle-schoolers has opened my eyes to the fact that losing things is still prevalent amongst our early adolescents. I pick up more pencils in our school hallways than dandelions on a May afternoon from the school’s side yard. I have a section on my bulletin board called “The Lost Kids”. It is often populated by assignments handed in without John Henry’s name on that line at the top of the paper that says NAME. Those two things, pencils and unnamed assignments, are as normal as Velveeta Cheese was in one of my mom’s casseroles.

However, today’s emerging adolescent has upped the value of the items they lose. Cellphones and those white AirPods seem to be the new targets of those mischievous gnomes, the same ones who hide our car keys. Cellphones get laid down for a moment and the student’s attention goes elsewhere, never to return. AirPods lose their grip, wind up in some weird place, causing more panic in the young person than concern over the math test that he bombed.

The most frequent forgotten possessions are coats and water bottles. I can’t quite get my mind around the number of lost coats and hoodies that populate our lost and found area. Maybe in August and September…okay! But in the chilled November and December afternoons? I mean, if it’s 30 degrees with a strong wind, making it feel like 20, why do another truckload of coats get deposited by our awesome school custodians that evening as they clean the rooms and hallways? Did Jane and Jimmy walk home and then realize they had forgotten their coats?

The one that really mystifies me is that “village of water bottles” that have become crowded inhabitants of the lost and found area. I’m talking expensive water bottles. Hydroflask, Yeti, Camelbak, and other brands that are a bit more expensive than that plastic bottle that was picked up from the “free pile” at the neighborhood yard sale this past summer. I mean, these are $30, $40, $50 water bottles, left behind, deserted, abandoned.

BUT the story has a good ending…I guess! At the end of a school quarter, usually every two months or so, all those water bottles and coats are gathered up and taken to find new homes through the local Goodwill stores. The gift of middle school irresponsibility will bring warmth, hydration, and value to someone else’s life. That $60 Hydroflask will find new life and be a better fit in someone else’s backpack. That unappreciated Columbia coat will be embraced and bring warmth to a kid who’s old coat has sprung holes.

Even irresponsibility can bring some good. Even the trials of left-behind possessions can create a bit of hope in a kid, or a family, that faces the challenges of trying to just get by.

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