“Get used to dining out without the crowds, to being a slave to fewer slaves, to getting clothes only for their real purpose, and to living in more modest quarters.” - Seneca (c.4 B.C. - A.D. 65)
I, like you, have too much stuff. The weeks of this current home-stay have made that even more apparent. Given the extra time no longer spent driving kids around to their various sports, and the time I might have spent loafing on the couch watching sports, I found myself able to look through those old bins in the basement, and those back shelves of the closets, and even the numerous drawers of my desk. It was like a hunt for a lost city; each branch that I pushed aside might reveal treasure or horror.
What it mostly revealed, though, was stuff.
Dusty stuff that I hadn’t thought about in ages. Pictures and photographs that I loved but have no space to display. Toys from my youth which, having occupied my parent’s attic for too long, were justly removed and shipped to take up my space. Including my favorite relic: an old green World War II-style army helmet. Just seeing it again immediately brought me back to the woods of my youth. I remember my best childhood friend and I camping: we spent the afternoon shooting BB-guns at trees, we tried fishing, we made a fire and cooked ground beef, carrots, and potatoes in tin foil, and in the evening sat in our tent while a massive storm blew in and around us, dousing our campsite. All the while we wore our helmets. We were happy and sleepy and lit with the thrill of youth and adventure. It was a pity when my friend’s mom came to retrieve us around midnight, saying the storm was too strong and we were going to be soaked and sick in the morning. I have no memories of sleeping inside that night, but I can recall almost every detail of the tent.
I think about my children, and how I hope I can be willing to let them be soaked and sick because the flame of enchantment will be their warmth.
So what do I do with this helmet? Is it my only link to that memory? I have recalled that camping adventure countless times in my life. When I think about guns, violence, hunting–which is not often–I think about how instead of shooting BB’s at trees for a while that afternoon we tried to shoot at birds. That was a different feeling. I believe that the camp dinner we ate might have been the first time I really understood the miracle of preparing food to feed myself. It wasn’t perfect, but I made it. That’s a good thought for a young person to have. I think about how over the decades that very best friend of mine and I grew apart. We still occasionally cross paths, but we have never fully replicated the intense friendship of our youth. I think about what it means to be rescued, even when you don’t really want it. I think about my children, and how I hope I can be willing to let them be soaked and sick because the flame of enchantment will be their warmth.
Here’s the other truth about stuff: nobody wants it but you. There may the occasional heirloom that gets passed down, such as the wooden bed in which my daughter sleeps. Her great-grandmother on my mother’s side slept in that bed as a child, and we aren’t sure how long the great-great-grandparents had it before that. The dinner table where my family eats was the same table my mother ate at as a child.
All of that wonderful nostalgia aside, for the most part, our stuff are just triggers for our memories. Ninety-nine percent of what we keep, we keep only for ourselves. My son might have wanted this helmet to play with when he was seven, but today he has no need of it. He has no need of my memory, for that matter, but he has been affected by it. For I have been shaped by both the experience and the memory, as I have the collection of such things, over the course of my life. And in whatever lessons I have taught, those memories have helped to shape him too.