Friday, December 17, 2010

The Stuff of Memories

I saw one of those insurance commercials yesterday morning showing a house on fire.  The voiceover said something like “Are you protected?  What if all your belongings and memories go up in smoke?”   It struck a nerve.  I was on the step-mill at the gym, and as I climbed that never-ending staircase, I pondered what the commercial was saying.  Can memories really go up in smoke?  If I don’t have the picture/postcard/t-shirt to prove it, do I no longer have the memory? 
I’ve never lost things in a fire, but I have in a flood.  In 1999 we were in North Carolina when Hurricane Floyd roared through.  The pile of ruined stuff at the side of the curb looked pitiful.  I lost things my mom had sent me.  I lost things I had saved for years.  But the memories of living with friends while our place was being fixed, playing Trivial Pursuit by vanilla-scented candles, and grilling frozen pizzas when the power went out, those still make me smile when I think of them!
I’m not saying none of it matters.  I love things with history.  I love re-reading cards and notes.   Opening up an old book is like meeting a friend again.  Baby pictures and high school journals and letters from friends all connect me to my past.  I guess what I’m wondering is, Do my things point to a memory, or are they a part of the memory itself?
The first time I read Anne of Green Gables was on a trip to Florida.  I was 10.  Mom was recovering from her first battle with breast cancer, and kind friends had given our family use of a condo and helped with plane fare.  I remember sitting in the shade, reading about Anne and her adventures.  I remember sand and waves and bright sunlight and palm trees.  I remember Mom asking what was wrong when she saw me crying as I read the chapter where Matthew dies.
If I give away my Anne books, does my memory of reading them go away, too?   
I’ve started the process of going through my stuff to set aside what I really want to keep.   Unlike 1999, this time, I have a choice.  That’s good, but it also means it’s taking more time.  I go back and forth between either getting rid of it all, or trying to keep most of it.  How much stuff do I hold onto for ‘sentimental’ reasons?  Is the solution to set some random number of books I’ll keep or boxes I’ll store?  Do I take pictures of my stuff so I can look at them after the items themselves are gone?  Okay, that’s just silly. 
Where does the ‘stuff’ end and the ‘memory’ begin?  I’m not really sure.  I know my memories are much bigger than any of the stuff.  But, I also don’t think just trashing everything is the answer.  As I work through this, I’m learning a lot about myself and what I hold dear.  I know this is a good thing, as difficult as it is.  So, like the other parts of this crazy journey I am on, I pray that God will continue to work in me, reminding me of His presence yesterday, today and forever.  No matter what I keep or sell or give away, He is truly the ‘Stuff’ of my past memories and my future ones as well.      

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