Travelers take great pride in their bangles, anklets, necklaces, armbands and trinkets to remind them of the cool places they’ve been. I once made a wooden beaded neck chain which lasted me through my first big trip and for years afterwards.
Every so often, the delicately threaded neck chain would catch a collar button as I was whipping off my shirt, or I’d remove it from a shower hook carelessly, and the leather cord would yank from the clasp, breaking the chain and scattering the little beads in all directions.
I’d always take care to collect every bead I could find, but inevitably I’d lose one or two every time. Then I’d begin re-threading them and complete the time-consuming repair job by re-fastening the cord with a pair of pliers.
I’d always find replacement beads at bead shops, or consolidate other broken bracelets to mend my prize neck chain. Over time, it contained more replacement beads than original ones. Eventually, all the beads from the original chain were completely replaced.
The day came that the weather-beaten cord was yanked for the last time, broke, and had to be replaced by a new one. By this time, the tiny little screw clasp was glued and clamped to the original cord, so that was also replaced.
Eventually not a single piece of the original neck chain remained. But the chain that hung around my neck was unmistakably the same one as the one I’d made years earlier.
I sometimes wonder where those atoms are now.