We spend years and sometimes a great deal of money accumulating stuff: cars, homes, furniture, clothing, gadgets. And we can make a great fuss about what we “own.”
But what do we really have that can’t be taken away?
Some of us go for antiques, spend our Saturdays wandering small towns and flea markets looking for the odd piece to fill just the right nook. I have a neighbor who is into roosters. House is filled with them, every size and description.
Some of us are blessed with heirlooms: I inherited a carefully folded flag that was presented to my grandmother at the military funeral of her husband, a World War I veteran, in 1963. He died before I reached the age of two so this possession holds great meaning for me. I have a friend whose grandmother’s hand-made Christmas ornaments are a treasure her family enjoys each year. The grandmother wanted her to have them while she could see her enjoy them.
Maybe you inherited an original painting that has hung in your family’s homes for generations. I have two small pictures of flowers in vases that hung in the modest home my grandfather built for my grandmother with its tin roof and pinewood paneling. They are inexpensive prints but priceless to me because they connect me with my family’s past.
We all have irreplaceable family photos. I inherited my mother’s photo albums and those of my childless Aunt Margie, who knitted her way through her daily commute between Bronx and Long Island. These photos were collected over the decades before digital imagery, when picture-taking was rare and people dressed for the occasion and sometimes posed in a studio. There are even a few photos taken by my great Aunt Mary, for whom my mother was named, with the brownie camera that hung ‘round her neck on the Greyhound bus rides South from Pittsburgh.
These thick photo albums are filled with the faces of family, shielded by plastic sheets, living in the far-away lands of Chicago, Detroit, New York. Familiar people and nameless babies, old men, young women and longtime family friends are captured on glossy, square black- and-white photo paper with decorative edges and simple date stamps in black, some dating back to the 1940s.
And, of course, there are my own wedding photos, nearly 26 years old now, and pictures and negatives of my own children as they have grown through grade school, athletic competitions, state fairs, vacations, proms and graduations. Their baby books – they each have one – are filled with a lock of their baby hair, their first ultrasound views, their early footprints and congratulatory cards at their birth.
Then there are the childhood keepsakes: kindergarten drawings, that first wrestling trophy, the high school wood shop piece, the change maker from the first paper route, the winning pinewood derby car, first pair of ballet slippers, the signed high school annuals and trunks full of our own college books and journals that marked our passage to adulthood.
Now imagine all that stuff, those memories, those milestones… going up in flames.
All of it.
Not one solitary piece remaining except in memory.
That imaginary moment may be your worst nightmare. But it’s no dream.
This actually happened to my neighbor’s daughter. A fire in the middle of a February night burned their Georgia log cabin home to the ground, even melted the siding on their car.
Everyone – both parents, two kids and a dog, plus some house guests – got out alive.
They have their lives, their love and each other. With that they can rebuild.
Relationships are fireproof because love never ends.
We need stuff: food, shelter, clothes. Extra stuff is useful; it makes life comfortable. It provides continuity and a sense of connection across the generations. But stuff is temporary. It comes and goes.
Better to treasure the people in our lives, and keep stuff in perspective.
“For we brought nothing into [this] world, [and it is] certain we can carry nothing out.” 1 Tim 6:7