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.