“Life is just a long loss of everything we love.” Victor Hugo
Every January I seem to celebrate having made it another year by culling thru accumulated clutter—not just the preceding year’s stuff but also papers and odds and ends from way back—the useless things that seem so hard to resolve. Two Januaries ago I threw out the last of the paperwork having to do with the settling of my father’s estate. When I finally tossed out the long pointless paperwork I’d saved I thought, “What was I thinking?” He died in 1986.
This year I went thru my mother’s stuff. She spent the last four years of her life in a nursing home and so when she passed a few weeks into the new Millennium much of her few remaining possessions had already been sorted thru—sorted thru when I moved her to Florida from Ohio in 1986, and again in 1996, after she had a stroke and had to go into the nursing home.
My father was a bit of a hoarder and so cleaning out his house 30 years ago in April of ’86 was somewhat daunting. My mother, on the other hand, had lost most of her possessions in her various moves around the country and the concomitant emotional breakdowns that went along with the moves.
I’m constantly reminded that I’m not getting any younger and that I need to resolve my own accumulated detritus. Just this week a friend mentioned that she’d been spending days sorting thru boxes of old paperwork, and she was feeling pleased about what she’d gotten rid of. That reminded me that I have much more of this to do myself and that my January initiatives needed to be ongoing.
My father used a spare bedroom in his house as an office. Although his house was chock full of odds and ends begging for the city dump, his office contents were orderly and logical enough to please Mr. Spock. His desk and filing cabinet were arranged in such a manner that settling his estate was fairly simple. Other than a houseful of personal possessions he had some stocks and certificates of deposit. His will basically consisted of one paragraph leaving everything to me. That made things simple. My will on the other hand was drawn up 13 years ago and the reality of my life has changed enough to render it pretty much meaningless. In effect, I have no estate, but I do have one hell of a lot of clutter.
“It’s hard to imagine the freedom we find from the things we leave behind.”
A couple Sundays ago at my home church Johnny sang an old Michael Card song that I hadn’t heard in years: “The Things We Leave Behind.” That set my mind wandering down various divergent paths into rabbit holes that comprise the alternate universes that is my life.
The pull of the flesh is tidal. And its weight is felt in simple things like memorabilia. When I was cleaning out my father’s office I found items and odd scraps of paper that made me think, “Yeah, he left that for me.” Things like a miniature Colt-45 that fired tiny caps, an ink blotter from 1943 with a P-40 Warhawk on its obverse side and a pen knife with a broken blade that probably dated from his childhood. Its hard to explain what I brought back from Ohio verses the things I left behind. Like I wish I’d have kept a few of his classic neckties from the 1940s and 50s.
The basement was another treasure trove. My grandfather was a plumbing and heating contractor. My father had kept his set of cast iron pipe wrenches. I have no idea why as he wasn’t going to go back in the plumbing business–but even more inexplicable is why I toted them to Florida. I recall having used one of the wrenches once or twice. Better I’d brought back my 1953 Schwinn bike and the toy shovel with which I’d helped my father stoke the furnace. They were both hanging from the basement rafters, but I left them hanging there in the musty cellar for the next owner.
Consider the Victor Hugo quote about loss that prefaces this blog in the light of Michael Card’s song: Is it incredibly depressing or hopeful? Depends on your perspective I guess. But the weight of our possessions isn’t the only thing Card is singing about. His song is really more about characteristics like worldly wisdom and false pride in lives without a transcendent meaning—like the apostles before they met Jesus and how apparently easily they walked away from their past—their families, their possessions, everything they felt that defined them. Well, we don’t really know the details, maybe some struggled mightily with losing everything to gain even more.
So it’s Mother’s Day again. Me, I’ll probably think about the past a lot and then go to a movie. I’m pretty sure I understand my life’s big picture–but I just can’t seem to sort thru the details.