“Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.”
~ Saul Bellow
It hit unexpectedly hard. Strangers coming by, touching the things offered for sale, talking amongst themselves, planning where they would be using what they were about to purchase. My things…mom’s things…my ex mother-in-law’s things…things from a life in another home, in another time. And of course as I watched people examine or buy, my memory suddenly decided to go ballistic on me. It surely doesn’t do that when I need it. But today, oh boy, it seemed secretly (and cruelly) delighted by its bright and sharp performance.
And so every little object brought back a story…when it was bought, where it used to sit in the house, who used it. Although I’m thinking I would have made quite a bit of money had I kept and sold baby clothes, toys and other knick-knacks that I donated, I am grateful that I didn’t keep them. There is no way I would have survived seeing people walk away with the toys and clothes my babies used. At least not back then. Even today when I am quite proud of how much more grown-up I’ve become, it was rather shocking to see my past dissected like that, and stragers walking away with little pieces of my life, even though I was the one selling the stuff and accepting money for it!
I am glad a nice couple bought the antique desk. It used to sit in the library, facing the back window. My babies crawled and played around it. I remember looking at it when I lay on the couch. I remember that room, my favorite room in the house back in NY. Yes, I had a library once. (and now I sound like Meryl Streep in Out of Africa!)
Today I understood mom’s pain and rage when many of the things she’s been collecting for years got sold. Every little object, however insignificant, had its own story and represented a tiny little fragment of a life…an individual life, a family life. We collect things, we live with things, we touch them, look at them, build stories with them. Taken individually, they’re just little things. But when you see them together, when you start to unpack your past and give it away to strangers…well, you realize that all the bits add up to a lot more than they seem to be worth individually. And you feel ridiculous, as I did today, for wanting to yell at the nice lady who just gave you money for stuff you haven’t used in a long time “hey, don’t touch that…that thing was sitting on my dresser once, it’s MY little box…a piece of MY life you just gave me a few dollars for!”.
And then while waiting for time to pass and saying hello to people browsing, other boxes got unpacked, and there they were…frames and photos and bits I forgot about or thought got lost in the move a few years ago. Some were a welcomed surprise…the gorgeous antique frame and photo of my grandparents when they were in their 20’s…some baby photos and frames and little objects I have around since I was a kid.
But others…well, other stuff was difficult. What do you do with the poem your ex-husband wrote, printed and framed for you on your anniversary years ago? What do you do with Shakespeare’s sonnet you printed and framed for him on your anniversary years ago? What do you do with dad’s collection of pipes that he was very happy with, and the little things you remember your ex-mother-in-law had in the house. What the heck do you do with all that past that no longer fits, and can’t be shared with those who shared it with you…because they now have a new life, and you have a new life, and the others, well, they’ve crossed into the eternal light.
Let me say that 6:30 in the morning (when the garage sale started) isn’t a good time to be around me. If you smile and make me coffee and get out of my way, you might get nothing more than a few grunts. But if you come to take away bits of my life, even if you give me money in return, I will not be happy. So no, I wasn’t happy. I thought I’d be happy…but I wasn’t really. All those hours today felt like sitting in a lab and watching a dissection being performed on a relative. Yes, all those memories tied to objects and all those objects seemed to make up an actual body…with a personality, with a history, and with a dignity that I felt was being somehow violated.
Oh yes, heavy thoughts today.
But there were good moments in spite of my dark mood. There was laughter, I bought coffee with cash for once, and some treats for the bake sale my son’s school has going on tomorrow. The desk and some other little things went home with that nice couple who I know will enjoy them. A few other people walked away with little objects they seemed quite thrilled about. And that makes me smile.
I was also forced at a most inconvenient and cranky moment to face something that we must all face and overcome…dealing with the past, acknowledging sadness, loss, change, the fact that life moves forward and if we want to maintain our sanity, as well as create happiness, we must learn to look back with a light, grateful heart…and smile.
Yes, smile because there was a past, a home, and people lived and argued and cried and yelled and laughed and celebrated in it. Because people collected things and enjoyed them. Because for better or worse, people created a story and shared it with each other. Because there are things to sell that others will enjoy and use in their own stories.
By 2 PM, my sadness has mellowed. All the stuff sold today was not torn away…but shared. And this garage sale was not a sinister dissection. Instead, really nice little and big things that once brought quite a bit of joy to me and others all went out into the world, and will keep changing hands and homes and stories until they will eventually dissintegrate.
So what is it all worth? What is the past worth, and ultimately, any life that few will remember and everyone will eventually forget? (Unless of course one is someone like Aristotle or Leonardo or I don’t know, Liberace? lol)
The value seems to me to reside in the joy and tenderness and love of each and every moment, as it happens, when it is lived, and when it is remembered, for however long it can be remembered. The value is in the hope and trust and excitement for the future. The value is in realizing we have so much to be grateful for.
I look up at my wall: “All is a gift”. Indeed.