My grandmother had a tin full of buttons. It was a pretty tin, that had probably been full of cookies or other treats at some point, but was now filled with buttons.
I have no idea where they came from. Maybe my grandma had bought them but never used them. Or maybe they were the leftovers of clothes no longer worn. Or maybe she had just found them.
There were lots of them of all colors, sizes and shapes and I was fascinated by them. Nothing made me happier than shaking and opening that tin to go through its contents over and over again. Every time I did, I’d find something I hadn’t noticed before.
All those buttons were a treasure to me, and I remember hoping my grandmother would one day give it to me.
Now, I think of all the different shapes and colors inside that tin and I understand the reason for my fascination. Even as a child, and way before I could begin to understand it, I was already in awe of diversity.
Those pretty—and some not so pretty—buttons were an allegory to the human race: chaotic, thrown together into a shrinking planet, beautifully colorful and varied, each one with its own role, its own use. All perfect in their own way.
It also reflected, I think, my longtime wish for peace and harmony.
I grew up at a time when war was still raging in our then African colonies and in Vietnam. The Cold War held a threat of nuclear war over our heads at all times. My country’s government was overthrown during a revolution that propelled the nation into euphoric chaos and led the way to the pouring of refugees into our tiny country with no resources or the infrastructure needed to accommodate so many people.
Anger, hate, racism, and all kinds of negative feelings born of fear hung over our society like a nasty, dark bird of prey ready to pounce.
Even as a child, I wanted peace. I wanted my friends to not be hated or discriminated against because of their gender, where they came from, or the color of their skin. I wanted people not to hate me for the same reasons.
It was a time of unrest and those buttons, sitting cozily inside the tin, mixing and mingling in peaceful bliss made me feel hopeful that one day humans would do the same.
I’m old now and I’m still waiting. We’ve made great strides in the right direction only to backtrack as if history has taught us nothing.
Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing and expect a different outcome. Humans seem to have history on a loop, making the same mistakes again and again only to be shocked when things don’t get better.
We need to take a lesson from my grandmother’s button collection, don’t you think?