Metrolinx’s Lost and Found department is always a window into private lives and changing priorities – so Anne Marie Aikins, Head of Media and Public Relations, recently took a tour through the room full of curious, unique and tragic stories as told through customers’ lost belongings to see how life has changed – or stayed the same – during 2021.
It was supposed to be so much easier this past year.
There were many who held out hope that 2021 would have been better than the previous year – one that saw so much suffering throughout a once-in-a-century global pandemic.
Although in many ways we have all adapted and incorporated the health and safety protocols into daily lives and routines, life remains somewhat surreal and different.
Those differences can be seen if you stroll – as I just did – through the forgotten items in the Lost and Found office at Metrolinx. It’s the place in Toronto’s Union Station where many forgotten items left on GO Transit and UP Express platforms and vehicles end up.
These misplaced treasures are curious and sometimes filled with stories of the resiliency of the human spirit that was 2021 – including COVID test kits and masks. Sometimes the Lost and Found room is full of curious, eyebrow-raising stories.
Over the last decade, I have tweeted my favourite annual ‘top ten’ list of recovered things – including a gold mouth grill (yes, a very relieved person retrieved that item only to ask if anyone had used it while it was missing). And the front grill of a car (no, not the same person). Now, there’s even a food grill sitting in a box, ready for a fry-up.
A very ornate sword hidden in a cane was never claimed. Titillating purchases from the annual sex show and some luggage full of cash – money is often claimed but most adventurous souls never show up for electronic devices passed in by employees and fellow travellers.
The annual Toronto sex show may be on pause throughout the pandemic, but there’s currently a gym bag full of unique intimate items in the Lost and Found. If it’s yours, we promise there will be no questions asked.
Speaking of personal devices, brand names change but people remain distracted enough to forget to pick up expensive electronics when they head off on transit. Where once Blackberries and Game Boys dominated the shelves, the newest iPhones, iPads, pricey AirPods and the latest gaming systems sit and wait patiently for their owners. People will stand in line for hours to snag the just-released, must-have phone, to only turn around, accidently leave it on the GO train and never claim it.
A recently left behind beauty of a guitar, that I like to imagine is owned by a brooding rock star, is soon to be – I hope – claimed. I may wait around until he comes back for it.
Often, the items are warm and predictable, like mittens, hats and umbrellas, socks and jackets, and as we get closer to the holiday season, wrapped Christmas gifts. All are donated to needy charities, if not claimed.
Since the pandemic began, staff have no doubt picked up a million masks, and lately, rapid test kits and vaccine passports.
But occasionally, there is much more beyond what can be written on a small identification tag – the lost item provides a glimpse of the heartache and emotion that we carry around in our possessions.
When they return to claim an item, owners often will unload a little of the burden of their grief by sharing their story. Our staff get to know them. And sometimes they even reach out to me, as a face and human voice of the transit agency.
Distracted, worried families have left treasured and well-loved teddy bears owned by their kids facing the hell of chemotherapy treatments. Reuniting worn stuffies with hospital tags on their wrists with the sick kids they are comforting, always leaves me in a puddle as I rush home to hug my kids and grandkids.
These families become part of our family, often keeping us updated on their progress or their tragic endings. Sometimes we just don’t hear from them again and never know what became of their story. So, I imagine them growing up strong and healthy, maybe becoming scientists discovering the latest vaccine or environmentalists saving the planet.
Often, the stories do have happy endings.
It’s very gratifying, our staff say, to be able to tell a panic-stricken traveller who has misplaced their wallet or passport that another customer turned it in before they even got home. Joyful tears are spilled along with huge sighs of relief. Promises of paying it forward are made.
I’m confident they do – in small ways, maybe even grand gestures of goodwill.
Sometimes the stories show the complexity of human beings and our relationships.
A beautiful ornate urn full of the ashes of a recently departed father was once strangely left on the train. We searched and searched for the owner. I even went through death notices searching for clues.
It was the burden of guilt that finally revealed the full story – a friend was tasked with delivering the ashes to the grief-stricken daughter, her oldest friend and she was so devastated by her absentmindedness that she couldn’t bring herself to break the news.
The reunion finally happened, and I always wondered if forgiveness brought the two old friends back together. I hope so.
If 2021 taught us anything, it is that life can be perilously short and unpredictable and the human spirit resilient.
And that we’ve all lost some things over almost two years living with a pandemic, but that there are always good things – and remarkable stories – to be found.
From all of us at Metrolinx, we are wishing you a safe holiday season and a very Happy New Year.
Don’t forget to pick up your belongings before you leave your train or bus.
And if you’re the musician who suddenly realizes I’ve helped lead you back to your beloved guitar, then all I ask is that you thank our staff. And, I don’t know, perhaps pen a top-ten hit song using my name.
Need more information on the Lost and Found department? Then just go here.