The Big Question: What Is Your Most Prized Possession?

The Big Question: What Is Your Most Prized Possession?

This article is part of a series called Turning Points, in which writers explore what critical moments from this year might mean for the year ahead. You can read more by visiting the Turning Points series page.

We prize something because it brings us joy, it is imbued with deep significance, or it transports us to a particular emotion. Perhaps it reminds us of someone, or somewhere. It may conjure a moment, fleeting and elusive, now permanently etched into our psyche. A physical manifestation of the intangible. An evocation of the spiritual.

Such is the power of the objects we hold dear: vast universes of meaning and memory, fiercely condensed into that which we can see, hold, savor. We asked a group of people from the worlds of art, media, science and spirituality to answer a seemingly simple question: What is your most prized possession?

Their responses have been edited and condensed.

Alexis L. Loinaz

Deepak Chopra’s copy of “Gitanjali,” gifted to him when he was 17.Credit…MPR

No object is more precious than one that awakens a sense of wonder. I unexpectedly experienced this when a favorite uncle gave me a copy of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Gitanjali” when I was 17. To call it a book of poetry would be a cosmic understatement. Tagore, arguably the foremost Bengali poet of the 20th century, won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature for the English translation of this slim volume.

“Gitanjali,” which translates to “song offerings” in Bengali, is the only book I feel would change the world if everyone read it. As we grapple with the search for hope and meaning amid trying times, I believe Tagore’s poetry can heal this kind of soul sickness, our most serious malady right now.

I’ve now had this book for most of my life. Its inspiration helped me through a personal crisis in medical school. It instilled in me a reverence for humanity — Tagore believed that the universe is not merely a collection of stars and galaxies; it offers an opportunity to meet God in every moment. I memorized my favorite poems from the book and even learned some Bengali to get closer to this great soul.

Deepak ChopraCredit…Courtesy of Deepak Chopra

Tagore doesn’t worship God so much as have a love affair with the divine in everything. As the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, he immediately became an international celebrity. Beyond the fame of “Gitanjali,” he gained a reputation as a sage. The press hailed a personal meeting between Tagore and Albert Einstein in 1930 as a confluence of two colossal minds and a melding of the worlds of poetry and science.

Tagore’s name never faded in India. But in the West, in the wake of two world wars, the Great Depression and the Holocaust, his teachings about universal love and the presence of the divine in daily life have largely dissipated. Love, it seems, had no power over hard realities. The alternative, as Tagore would see it, is spiritual emptiness and hopelessness. Bringing “Gitanjali” back to the forefront of the collective consciousness has been one of my most personal goals. I cannot foresee that this will ever change.

Deepak Chopra is an author, spiritual adviser and advocate for integrative medicine.

I would not call myself a collector. I sometimes buy a photograph or a drawing when it means something to me, and this image of an adult and child admiring a painting at the Louvre does, perhaps, more than any other. I encountered it soon after my appointment as president-director of the museum and felt compelled to buy it. I promptly decided to place it in my office, right by my desk.

It is an original print from 1969, part of a series of black-and-white photographs by Robert Doisneau. What immediately caught my eye was this powerful vision of the modern museum the Louvre was gradually becoming, this tender gaze at the public through the lens of an immense artist.

Of course, it reminded me of my first discovery of the Louvre — always a foundational moment. That little boy belongs to my generation; he could have been me. The unconscious is always at work.

However, beyond nostalgia, I see this photograph as a symbol of the transformation of the museum — in it, the duo use an earlier version of our audio guide. It is also a tribute to the museum’s link between generations. These are essential elements of the Louvre’s mission of public service.

Laurence des CarsCredit…Musée du Louvre/Nicolas Guiraud

Most importantly, this child — tiny compared to the immensity of the artwork he is looking at, and caringly helped along by, presumably, his father — is a moving reminder of our responsibility to ensure that this sense of discovery can continue for future generations. It reminds us to evolve with the times to allow a deep connection with our society. The man and the child are now looking at me every day, helping me fulfill this duty.

This photograph is a constant ode to why I love what I do: an image that captures with great humor how much emotion can emerge from such key moments in the lives of the museum’s visitors. The feelings sparked by artwork are the very purpose of their display, and it is with great pride that I contribute to those moments today, striving to allow our visitors to enjoy their time at the Louvre.

Laurence des Cars is the president-director of the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

For as long as I can remember, a dusty, worn field notebook has been a mainstay in every bag I’ve owned. As a filmmaker, I get to live many lives through the stories I tell. Whether filming rare wildlife, making an investigative documentary about the human-wildlife interface in China or working on challenging stories about issues such as labor abuses in the Middle East or climate change in Colombia, my world changes dramatically every few months, and my notebook bears witness.

I fundamentally believe that everything we work on as individuals deeply transforms us. Work, which many of us dedicate most of our lives to, can not only represent who we are, but also — with each project we work on — signify our evolution and who we choose to become.

Malaika VazCredit…Untamed Planet

My trusty stack of field notebooks lies in a corner of my home, gathering dust daily. But when I need some inspiration, I’ll peek inside one of them, reminding myself of the ideas, stories, people and places that once occupied my attention. It’s easy for creatives to dismiss past work since, with each year, the differences in approach, creative direction and intellectual rigor in older projects we’ve worked on seem more prominent. But in this strange, magical way, looking back reveals how all the dots connect, and how the concepts and ideas that fascinated us decades ago still find a way into our current realities and the new stories we create.

Today, I often find myself typing notes on color-coded Google Docs, using software to organize my files or beta testing a friend’s new artificial intelligence software that creates detailed technical notes from video footage. There is increasingly more structure in the way I jot down my thoughts. Yet when it’s time to truly ideate — to devise a creative approach for a film, daydream about my next project or plan the beginnings of a script — I always return to my notebook. Pen-to-paper scribbles, scratches and notes that are virtually incomprehensible to anyone else become the makings of my next project — and, in many ways, my ode to the magic of work.

Malaika Vaz is a filmmaker, TV presenter and the CEO of Untamed Planet.

When I was a Hindu monk living in India 10 years ago, I took a long train ride with other monks from my ashram to the south of the country. Monks don’t travel first class or even economy, so the train car was noisy and cramped. At each stop, I’d get off and meditate, then get back on. My teacher noticed this and asked me what I was doing. I explained that it was far more peaceful off the train. He looked at me and asked, “Which do you think life is more like: the peaceful stop or the difficult train?” I got the message, so I started meditating on the train.

One thing that helped me focus then, and since then, was my meditation beads, which my teacher gave me. Traditionally called “mala,” they consist of a string of 108 beads plus a guru bead. The guru bead represents all the incredible guides and teachers in our lives. The beads are made from the tulsi plant, which is sacred in the bhakti tradition we practiced — a movement that espouses devotional service as a spiritual path.

Jay ShettyCredit…Daniel Prakopcyk

We were taught that the most powerful meditations occur when all our senses are present. The beads allow us to engage our sense of touch as we repeat mantras and keep a rhythm as we count. They also act as a physical and visual reminder to be present; to be where we are now, where our feet are, where our hands are — one bead at a time, one mantra at a time.

These beads are my most prized possession because they remind me of the gift of meditation and the responsibility it comes with. I believe this is symbolic of our lives, too. We have the gift of life, which also comes with a responsibility to serve. The beads represent the trust my guide and teacher placed in me to honor an ancient and sacred practice. They connect me to my higher self while also reminding me that I must help others with that energy. Silence and service are both embodied by these beads.

I still carry them wherever I go, so I’ll always remember to stay present and focused on my purpose.

Jay Shetty is a best-selling author, entrepreneur and the host of the“On Purpose” podcast.

My Dad’s cherished hat is my most special possession. My father, the conservationist and wildlife documentary host Steve Irwin, who passed away in 2006, would only wear this hat when he wasn’t working. And when he wasn’t working, he’d spend all his time with our family. This hat reminds me of those precious moments when Dad’s entire focus was on us.

Dad’s filming schedule and conservation work often took him to the four corners of the planet, and sometimes to places where it wasn’t safe for young children. I’m thankful that when Dad was home with us, he dedicated all his energy to being present with our family. He’d put on this hat, and I would know that it was time for an extraordinary adventure together: taking the motorbike for a morning check of the Australia Zoo; hiking to the summit of an enormous mountain; or traveling to our conservation property in Western Queensland to study an endangered snake species.

Bindi IrwinCredit…Australia Zoo/Kate Berry

This hat means so much to me because it encompasses all of my good memories of my Dad. I feel like this hat held the same sentimentality for him — he wore it until the fabric finally fell apart. When it did, he later scribbled on it. “I loved this hat,” he wrote, lamenting, “I’m gunna miss it.”

I think a part of him knew that this hat would be important to me and my brother. I feel like he wrote that inscription to remind us of these times we shared, even after he would be gone.

Bindi Irwin is a wildlife conservationist and television personality.

Twenty years ago, my husband and I drove up the glorious Maine coast. On the way to Acadia National Park, we stopped at a huge, weathered building where books and antiques were sold. We are not collectors of much of anything, but an object in a dusty corner proved irresistible. I have always loved radio, and there, with a pile of junked electronics, was an On the Air lighted sign in perfect condition. I simply had to have it.

When I was a child, I listened dreamily to the program “Make Believe Ballroom” on the radio station WNEW. I imagined myself in beautiful clothes while dancing in the sumptuous ballroom of a New York luxury hotel. Radio was a source of fantasy for my vivid imagination.

As a graduate student in the physics department at Princeton University, my fascination with radio shifted to the news program “All Things Considered.” Everything else in my life stopped for this broadcast full of news analysis and cultural commentary. When Susan Stamberg became a host of the program, I was inspired by a woman filling a leadership position in broadcasting when the doors were closed to women in the physical sciences. As my career advanced, the barriers I faced increased. But then the journalists Cokie Roberts and Nina Totenberg came on the air. Their authoritative, incisive broadcasts seemed to tell me, “Yes, you can.”

Margaret GellerCredit…Scott Kenyon

In the mid-1980s, I was on the other side of the microphone for the first time. At the studio of the Boston radio station WBUR, I was amazed by the amount of equipment and the seemingly endless sound checks. Eventually, I was on the air painting a picture of how ancient light travels through the universe for hundreds of millions, even billions, of years. This light reveals the enormous patterns that galaxies trace in the universe. I left the studio enchanted by the magic of radio. Longer wavelength light carried my voice across miles to people I could only imagine.

A few months ago, I led another radio voyage of the imagination through the universe. This time, I spoke from my home study in the company of my treasure, that vintage On the Air sign, in red and gold.

(Interview by Lara McCoy)

Margaret Geller is an astrophysicist.

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