Surely you’ve heard about the time capsule historians in Boston cracked open last week. Its contents are a marvel — as well as a testament to the resilient hope of people who believed, despite the occasional proof to the contrary, that the human race would survive its own follies.
Found in the Massachusetts State House, this 1795 box is probably the oldest American time capsule on record, which imbues it with both sentimental and historical significance. Samuel Adams, the then-Massachusetts governor (not the beer), and Paul Revere, of midnight-rider fame, were among those who entombed the box in a cornerstone of the building. And while the age of this thing is fascinating, it is the Revolutionary-era contents that truly enthrall me. They’re a reflection of what citizens of the time held dear.
Inside: 23 coins, including a 1652 "PineTree Schilling" made when the colony didn’t have the power to create its own currency. Also a medal depicting George Washington, a silver plate commemorating the erection of the building and five newspapers, at least two of which were added in 1855, when the time capsule was first discovered and cleaned.
The big debate now is whether the state should add some modern-day items to the time capsule before it is reburied for future generations. Which got me thinking about what I would include if I were to create my own. This isn’t a silly exercise, something to calm the nerves while sitting in rush-hour traffic. In this era of unbridled consumerism, when drawers brim over with our possessions and storage unit companies do a brisk rental business to house our extra stuff, focusing on what we truly value can serve as a guide to what is precious and what is not.
After all, who among us hasn’t asked what she would gather if she had to flee a mudslide or a flood? Those of us who endured the Category 5 winds of Hurricane Andrew, who saw roofs collapse and photographs float away, know that sometimes it’s the small item, the telling memento that might be the closest to our hearts.
With a time capsule, selecting artifacts takes on another layer of significance. A century from now, if my great-great grandchildren were to pry open a metal box, what do I want them to find? What can tell my story best?
For starters I’d include a newspaper or two. As endangered as they are in the 21st Century, they remain the first draft of history — and the means by which I supported a family.
Also, books by beloved authors and a jar of Miami Beach sand to reveal what provided me with hours of enjoyment and peace.
A scalloped black and white photograph of my paternal great-grandmother and grandfather because it is the oldest photograph I own.
The child’s silver and turquoise bracelet my mother brought from Cuba in the hem of her dress. Regardless of the deprivations of early exile, she never pawned it, which says something about its worth in something other than dollars.
My signature, in case handwriting experts are still around.
An unedited video of the family, all 40 or more, jostling and joking around the plenitude of my Thanksgiving buffet table, proof that we cared about each other in spite of the arguments.
A sampling of my weekly columns to show how I think.
A tiny silver Ekeko I’ve owned since I was 11. The Andean god of abundance reminds me of the halcyon days of my childhood spent, in part, in Bolivia.
A copy of my first novel because I dared to try something new.
And last but not least, an item as emblematic of our times as anything else might be : A copy of a typical day’s calendar chockablock with appointments and tasks to illustrate how harried, how tenuous and ephemeral life can be.