May 7, 2017
My daughter Becky Sue Evans and her family drove to Baton Rouge, Louisiana this spring to help clean up after severe flooding damaged or destroyed areas with up to five feet of water. People had gathered up what could fit in a car and left the rest behind. She says that seeing possessions that people had to bring out to the street to be disposed of was an awakening for her. Most things that are of wood, fabric or porous that have been in muddy water for three to five days are not reclaimable. She described the experience as “heartbreaking.”
She tells me, “We are too attached to things.” And I look around my home and see that it is full of things such as the paintings my mother did, a collection of tiny boxes from both mothers, augmented by gifts from others I love and some from places I have been. I have kept the tile pictures, decoupage and needlepoint Gary’s mother made. I have the ceramics and other projects my children made in school. I have drawers full of memorabilia and pictures. And, yes, I am attached to them.
Earthquake and fire are more likely than floods in this area we live in. The quick fix is to digitalize everything, but life is going on and that job is far down the to do list. Given the busy life I live, I don’t know when conserving with pictures will be important enough to do. When I asked Becky Sue about it, she said that if the house is destroyed I will feel sad, so I should enjoy what I have now. That’s what I was doing before she told me about the people in Baton Rouge and brought up that “We are too attached to things.” Full circle.
In Africa, some friends helped a couple move to a new apartment. The couple’s total possessions after being married for three years were a mattress, a 12” TV, some clothing, pots and dishes and some food. These were happy people. They could sleep, work, be entertained and eat. What more than that do we need to be happy? Well, computers and chairs. When Gary and I went to Washington on a mission for 18 months, we took clothing, computers and books. The place we rented, the walk-out basement of a nice home, was furnished and roomy. We were happy there. The pictures on the walls, furniture and dishes were all well-selected second-hand. We were grateful to live so comfortably. Our attention was on what we were doing, not what we were owning.
In fact, when we were burglarized and they took my lap top, my jewelry, and a few other sellable things, we felt bad, of course. I didn’t spend hours on-line or going to pawn shops to try to find them as the police suggested. We had more important things to do.
So the bottom line is, Becky Sue assures me, “Enjoy what you have while you have it. The memories that go with all those things are in your mind.” The “portrait” of my step-father Ferdi painted by my mother in cubist style will endure in my mind (though it is hung behind a door because it doesn’t really match my decor). The Venetian glass ducks (with one set of webbed feet almost invisibly repaired) will bring memories of their elegant arrangement in my mother-in-law’s house.
Oh yes, Becky Sue also reminds that after I’m dead I won’t care about all the stuff left behind. But I hope, if it’s still in place, my relatives care, at least a little, about these things. I see worth in them beyond monetary value because the people who chose them appreciated them. Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” I have no Grecian urns, but I do enjoy the beautiful things others have chosen and passed on to me. If things do go away, the life that goes on is enriched by years of uplifting association with their memories as well as their physical presence. PMA
Below is a Chinese plate from Gary’s mother.