This past week, I broke my water bottle.
Obviously, since I am writing an obituary for it, I am devastated by this loss. I would have cried right there in the parking lot whose asphalt broke it, had it not been for the fact that I was headed to a job interview.
My Nalgene and I have been together since 2016. We made it through most of college and almost two years in the park service side by side. It survived snow, sun, lots of sand, many saltwater baths, and countless drops from various heights. But for whatever reason it did not survive the last drop from the crook of my arm onto the asphalt at Pocahontas State Park.
This was not the first Nalgene I owned but it was the first Nalgene that I’ve broken. (I lost the other ones.) Nalgenes are supposed to be indestructiable. There is an entire Youtube genre supporting this legend. A friend of mine in high school once said that the only way he could break his was by slamming it repeatedly against a brick wall. But like most legends, this one was false.
I am not without a water bottle at the moment. But my hydrocell, the chinese rip-off of a hydro flask, just isn’t the same. It doesn’t hold the same memories as my Nalgene. Nor does it feel the same when I hold it in my hand. Heck, just even drinking out of it doesn’t feel the same.
At moments like this, I’m reminded of a passage from Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith writes, “A man grows fond of a snuff-box, of a pen knife, of a staff which he has long made use of, and conceives something like a real love and affection for them if he breaks or loses them, he is vexed out of all proportion to the value of the damage.”
Now, you don’t need to an have an economics degree to know that feeling emotionally about an object won’t make it work any better/last any longer. However, thanks to my economics degree, I know that the utility I got from my water bottle, that is the value I got from owning it, wasn’t just based on its ability to hold water for my drinking pleasure. Its utility for me was also based on many other things, such as it’s percieved indestructibleness, its ability to hold stickers, and the many memories attached to each of those stickers. Smith understood this, writing that an object’s utility, “should often be more valued than, the very end for which it was intended.”
I valued my water bottle greatly during its lifetime. Other than my phone, it was the object that I spent the most amount of time with. It was a constant companion, the thing that I could always count on having my back, or at least always being in my back pack. When I graduated from college, I cut off the piece that held the lid of my water bottle to the actual bottle part. This was to symbolize that from that moment onward, I would be on my own in the world. If I fell, I wouldn’t have a safety line to catch me. I would have to figure out how to get back up on my own.
Now, I am on my own in the world, and without my water bottle.