Saturday, April 02, 2011

Stacks and Stacks

Having moved three times in the past four years, I've had ample opportunity to ponder the nature of personal belongings, a.k.a. "stuff."

I generally try follow the two year rule: If you haven't worn, read or used an item in two years, you probably don't need it. But, I have to admit, I'm thankful for the large attic at my mom's house in Pennsylvania where all evidence of my life before 2007 now resides.

In the new edition of U.S. Catholic, editor Bryan Cones takes this topic for a drive and discovers something about himself.

Here is part of his fine Lenten column "Boxed In":

... I lived for a year without half my things, and I never really needed them. When I finally unpacked the dozens of boxes, I wondered why I had wasted hundreds of dollars storing them. There were mementos from high school and college, knickknacks from trips, old videos, and CDs. But most of it was books, books, and more books, along with notes from college classes and papers I had written more than a decade ago.

Why was I keeping all this stuff? Did I really think I was going to take up biblical Greek again, or that I had a use for a 10-pound German dictionary? An anatomy textbook? Really?

I used to watch TV reality shows about people who have collected so much that they’ve become completely overwhelmed, prisoners of their own treasured possessions. They couldn’t allow themselves to throw anything away, and they couldn’t say why. Inevitably, once the work of clean-up had begun, the reason became obvious: grief and regret embodied in so many knickknacks, feelings that suddenly burst forth when the show’s host suggested that Aunt Edna’s broken teapot might be ready for the trash heap.

As I looked at my books and papers—almost all of them from my seminary and theology school days—I was surprised by my own unacknowledged sadness. Most of that library was a collection of dreams unfulfilled or only partially so, visions of myself that weren’t to be: me as a priest and pastor, as a theologian and college professor.

Even more, carrying them around—hundreds and hundreds of pounds of them—was wearing down more than my back. There was regret, disappointment, even a sense of failure that I hadn’t lived up to expectations. And as long as they were there in front of me, living where I live, I wasn’t going to move on. They were taking up the space where new life could have a chance to grow—my own little spiritual tomb built in stacks and stacks of paperbacks. Cue the soft rock. ...

1 comment:

Waldie said...

it's funny to read this now considering the fact that the hubby and i are currently going through our house and getting rid of almost everything as we prepare to move abroad. it's amazing how much stuff you amass without realizing it. and you realize how you keep the stupidest things for very little reason.