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And the ring went flying – “replacing the irreplaceable”

Many years ago, during a winter car trip in upstate New York, I opened the car window to throw out an apple core. So far, so good. What happened next soured the sweet apple savor still in my mouth.   My high school ring slipped off my finger, and accompanying the apple core, flew out the window, past the gravel at the edge of the asphalt, and somewhere into the tall grass even further from the road. I was totally caught by surprise; I now suddenly had a ring-less finger on my right hand.   By the time I came to my senses and it dawned on me what had happened, we were much further down the highway, far beyond being able to even figure out exactly where we were when the ring went flying. There was no way to get back to the spot of the tragedy. There was no way to even begin to look for it.

To say that I was sick to my stomach is an understatement. The ring was a gift from my parents for my graduation, and I had “thrown it away along with an apple core.”   In my mind, it was a tragedy.

I have to admit that I don’t know how long I kept the secret from my parents; forever would have been too short! The ring was “irreplaceable” in my mind. Even if I could have ordered and received a replacement from the manufacturer, something I was in no condition to do, I still would have lived with the sensation that what I would be wearing would “not be the same.” It would not have been the ring my parents gave me, even if it was identical in appearance.

I have had other items, as have you the reader, for which we would use “irreplaceable”.   Of course, that irreplaceable might have been a “thing” as was the ring. But, perhaps it was a friendship with a special person, a friendship that went sour and you really don’t want to talk about it; and you don’t. You know you tried to renew the friendship. It didn’t work. You tried to replace it by building a friendship with someone else. That worked until it inadvertently “slipped out” that you were using that lost friendship as the model for the new one. That put the other person on edge, and the flame of friendship lost its sparkle and only ashes remained.

Perhaps, it wasn’t a friendship. Perhaps your spouse passed away. He, or she, was the love of your life. You mourned the absence of your other half for a long time, perhaps measured in years. No one could ever take the place of that dear soul mate. The word “irreplaceable” seemed to capture the sentiments you were feeling.   You feared even the thought of marrying again. Remarriage carried the connotation of dishonoring the memory of the deceased.

Then, one day, with no warning, you started thinking – “I have misunderstood the word ‘irreplaceable’.   My mind went back to that ring that went flying out the car window. Yes, it really was irreplaceable; nothing could replace it. The folly was the attempt to “replace” it.   The folly was to keep thinking in terms of replacing what was irreplaceable.   To replace it was to attempt the impossible. A new ring would be a new ring, not a replacement.

The ring case might seem forced, although it isn’t in my mind. But, when we go to the case of living “forever” alone because the deceased spouse is “irreplaceable”, the issue is not forced at all. The word “irreplaceable” simply doesn’t fit. It isn’t appropriate. It is making what some people call a category error. A new spouse should never be considered a replacement. The words “replacement” and “irreplaceable” are imposing a set of conditions that don’t make sense.

What I have expressed above takes on particular “feel” for me. I know folk whose spouse has passed away. We talk. We can talk because we share the same experience.   It has taken me a number of years to come to what I am now aware.   I can now converse with others in the same situation without it being theoretical. I now realize that Joyce will never be replaced.   She is irreplaceable. It would be foolish to even think she could be replaced. But, if I were ever to marry again, my new wife would also be irreplaceable, and for the same reason that Joyce was.

I may replace a pair of socks, a computer, or a car. They are replaceable. Perhaps I can replace a house, my books, and the thermos which holds the tea I am sipping as I write this.

On the other hand, I can never replace a wife. She is not replaceable; she is irreplaceable. And, if I were to have the fortune to marry again, it would not be a case of trying to replace the irreplaceable. I would again be married to one who is equally irreplaceable, the love of my life. If not, trouble is on the way.