On a write-and-walk with colleagues, we pass a house that looks a hundred years old. One of our companions knows the owner who is renovating the place. He happens to walk out on the porch; there are waves, exchanges, and an invitation to see his work in progress.
On the nickel tour, the renovator explains the piece by piece work he's done to bring the house to its current glory. He doesn't hide the rooms and the grungy basement that still need work.
The idea of renovation is overwhelming: the decisions, the tossing out, the patience to bring an old house back to life. When we had to renovate the house we currently live in, I would walk in, see the gray walls, the gray and red carpeting, and I'd go into a stupor. I quit visiting the house. Fortunately, the paint colors, the carpeting, had been picked out and Tony saw the remodeling through.
When my colleagues and I walk out of the old house, Chris tells us when he inherited his parents old house, he too was daunted by the work it needed. He ended up hauling out 15,000 pounds of stuff--unneeded, unnecessary--junk.
Why do we live with junk?
When traveling with students, there is always a special stop or two for souvenirs. Over the years, I have silently giggled at some of their purchases. In my cynical mind of souvenir experience, I think how the bronze Roman soldier statue, or the indigenous knitted hat will disappear along with their youth.
On one such visit to a souvenir shop with students, I was once again amused by their purchases. One young man was overly concerned about purchasing a souvenir his mother would treasure. As I perused the shop with him, I found a bright blue clay pig, and I was taken back to a visit with my own father to Switzerland, where my father made several purchases of wood carvings whenever he visited the land of his parents' birth. He appreciated the art and skill needed to produce beautiful stories told in wood. I thought he had too many.
On one of our trips, I had meandered into a shop and found charming, miniature pigs made of rubber. Each pig had a whimsical expression and body position. They appealed to my silly side, and when I showed the purchase to Dad, he was incredulous.
I brought the pigs home and though they were still adorable, I felt awkward each time I pulled one out of a drawer. I'd smile, but remembering my father's reaction, they made me feel foolish. To this day, all the pigs have been lost. The memory of my father's disapproval was stronger than my desire to keep track of the little pigs.
So when I look at the students' purchases, I keep in mind that souvenir comes from the French word: to remember.
We all choose different ways to remember, and very often we don't want to let go of those memories.
When I think of the inevitable burden my daughters will one day carry out, the sorting through their parents' possessions, it impels me to take a practical approach now. I'm continually, sorting, giving away, tossing out, so they may only have to haul away 500 pounds of stuff, yet that stuff will have had meaning only to their father and me. In those 500 pounds will be the stories they never heard, the emotions and attachments they never understood or lived through--therefore, in their eyes, it will be junk--and safe to haul away~~only because we are gone.