My wife and I live in a house filled with stuff, all of it seemingly important at the time we acquired it. We have new stuff, inherited stuff, had-to-have stuff, old stuff and stuff that is stuffed.
We don’t live in clutter; we’re not anything close to being hoarders but we are people with many things that have meaning to us – the first defensive claim of any hoarder I suppose. We have so many meaningful things that they have often disappeared into one another or have fallen out of immediacy and don’t get used anymore; so many individually things of importance that I sometimes don’t even notice their specialness.
We have, for instance, a salt and pepper shaker set that we received as a wedding present. I have always admired the beauty of their design; the way they bulge and taper to fit the hand, the way their milk colored porcelain catches the light and the delicate manner in which they were painted. The shakers have appeared on the table only on holidays. Having had an active imagination as a young bridegroom, the pattern on the shakers reminded me – at first glance upon opening – of stylized fire breathing dragons chasing terrified villagers away from their homes and into the sea. Around and around under a flower-filled sky the dragons chase and the people flee.
The flourished images on the shakers also remind me of finiteness of life and the metaphor of the crocodile with his swallowed clock chasing Captain Hook in Peter Pan. Its author, J. M. Barry wrote, “I suppose it’s like the ticking crocodile isn’t it? Time is chasing after all of us.”
Years ago on Thanksgiving I noticed one of our grandsons, who was about four at the time, intently studying the shakers. Holding the pair of shakers by their lids he turned them in opposite directions and maybe having the same imagination as I, he started making soft growling sounds. An adult sitting next to him reached across and took the shakers from his hands and said, “Those aren’t toys, they’re antiques and we have to be careful with them because they are very, very fragile.”
In another part of our kitchen, (the kitchen cupboards seem to be a hotbed of under-used items) we have a set of delicately carved wine glasses. They were once used at a dinner given by my wife’s great grandfather, a dinner party that was reportedly attended by the governor of Idaho in the early 1900’s. We have kept them and their story safely on the top shelf of a glass-fronted cupboard. They haven’t minded this neglect. They learned it while waiting in a glass cabinet at my wife’s mother’s house and from a long tenure of similar display at her grandmother’s. If things had gone on as planned they would have been moved, at some point in the future, to a similar place of safety on the top shelf of one of our daughter’s houses.
I could go on about dishes and expand examples to include books and souvenirs from vacations such as some sea glass collected on a hiking trip along the Olympic peninsula and other things like a baseball mitt that caught a ball that won a game that was influential in our son’s decision to have a life involved in sports.
We have in recent times made a decision to use everything in our life that has been too precious, too valuable and too fragile to use.
Apart from my wife’s and my own experiences with cardiac arrest and cancer, in recent times two of our friends have been diagnosed and treated for life threatening cancer, and my brother-in-law and good friend has recently been placed – his memories gone to Alzheimer’s disease, in residential care. We attended the memorial services of another friend a just a while back. On display at her service were several of the”fragile” things that she had loved, but didn’t use for other than display.
All of our families all have a great many “things”; things that can, in an instant, lose much of their overvalued meaning. We are and often become the custodians of delicate, breakable things that it is time to get out of the cupboards and use with the realization that every day is a holiday and that the most fragile and irreplaceable thing of all is time itself.