The Serendipity of Found Objects

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, December 2, 2022 / 8 Kislev 5783

Summary: Tomorrow is our second Meditation Shabbat. I hope you can make it. This week, I was pondering those unexpected moments when we encounter an object containing just the right experience we need at that point in time.

Reading Time: Four minutes

You can trawl the internet for treasures, and you will find them. A perfect picture of Mt. Hood on a cloudless day when the snow sparkles from miles away, or that sweater on Instagram you’ve been searching for. Maybe a meme that makes you laugh out loud on a humorless day. You can trawl the internet for treasures, and many do, but it’s the serendipity of the found object that really thrills me. The bench people put on their property, facing the street for anyone to sit upon. The signs for someone’s backyard habitat, which makes you pause and glance at the small “wild” habitat the humans made to share with smaller creatures. And the dozens of little libraries positioned around the city, those A-frame boxes filled with mostly worthless books, yet when you rout around in them, sometimes you find that one volume you never knew you needed to read: the serendipity of the found object.

It’s the unexpectedness of the thing, and its analog solidity, as though there were a community of objects inviting you to join them. There are so many ways to describe a city and define its culture to a visitor. Portland is a city of food trucks, or a place filled with walking trails and homeless tents. All of that is true, yet these found objects stand out to me as something unusual and special about this place, in the same way that Jacob stumbled upon a pile of rocks in this week’s parshah and discovers angels and a ladder and a dream of God. This doesn’t happen everywhere, nor does it happen to everyone, but it happens in our town. We always have the opportunity to walk on by; there will always be another pile of rocks, after all. It’s when we turn around, though, that we are greeted with kismet.

Yesterday the sun returned; at this season in the Pacific Northwest, we all know you have to hustle outdoors to catch it while it shimmers and the landscape glows, before the grey socks us all in again. Late afternoon Thursday, I cut myself some slack and headed up the nearby hills to catch a glimpse of the illuminated horizon. It was marvelous. On the way down, I stopped at the Poetry Corner, which is a small, rectangular, glass-doored box inside of which is a rotating collection of poems. Someone in Northwest Portland also has placed a poetry box on the front walkway, and I stumbled across one other box somewhere in town a few years back, so maybe it’s a thing. But there it was.

On the right side, a poem by Robert Allbee, called “The Initiation.” Here it is:

The Initiation

Remember your story, your life.
It comes from there.

I often wonder,
if God showed up, would I recognize him?
Would I know how to dance?
Would I say the right thing?
Would I embarrass myself and look like a fool?
Would everyone see all my crippledness?

You see, I think I have the answer.
I think I am going to read myself into the promised land.
I am deciphering all the great disciplines.
Carrying the banners of the ages of sages.
Percolating through all the pertinent thought of modern man.

Unfortunately, I am still left with the same question.
If God showed up, would I know how to dance?

Tonight I was given part of the answer.
I stood in a circle of ten men and a boy, outside, around a fire.
We were all told, “Tell this boy what you always wanted
your father to tell, you, when you become a man.”

Ten fossils were suddenly released from their
resin encrusted tombs.
Startled, like water on a fish dying,
we were all, without warning, alive.
All swimming upstream, once again, at home.
Instantly recognizing the ways of the water
and the feel of the deep sustaining currents.
Together, remembering, suddenly.

Eleven men walked away that night.
Remember your story, your life.
It comes from there.


The Bible is a story of initiations, such as what Jacob received at the foot of the heavenly ladder, or Moses at the burning bush, or Sarah behind the tent, laughing at the angel, because life is a series of initiations, most of which we manage to sleep through, oblivious to our next opportunity. When we catch them, we realize that this, this moment, is Beit El, the house of God, this serendipity of found objects, a little satori, initiation, a new beginning.

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

    1. Share a memory or two of a found object that shifted something for you.
    2. At its best, regret is a way to learn from the past how to live next time. What “found object” did you only recognize in hindsight as something you really should have picked up on?

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.