We live in such a disposable society. That concept is great when referring to mindfully using biodegradable products and recycling. It bothers me, however, in the context of how we tend to keep buying and replacing our things rather than recognizing the beauty of reusing and sharing with the next user, or generation, the less than perfect, yet to be treasured, items of the past.
I still have my 1967 Camaro from high school. It was my first and only car until 1980 when fitting two baby car seats in a two door sports car was impractical. So “Betsy” was garaged and has been taken out as needed or for special occasions for the last 43 years. I’ve had so many suggestions to have her completely restored but I love this vestige of my youth just the way she is. She’s not in perfect shape. Yet every little dormitory parking lot bumper sticker or nick only add to her uniqueness, each a little vignette of my past that is fun to share with my children and grandchildren.
Today, over 50 years later, this car is “way cool”, but when I kept her in the early ‘70s, to do so was very counter cultural. Most cars of that age were traded every several years, never intending to have a life over 100,000 miles. Yet I maintained her and calmed my parents’ fears for my safety as I made the many 500 mile trips home for the holidays and school breaks between Columbus, Ohio and Ithaca, New York where I attended law school. As a result, today I have a tangible piece of my history, stories that retell my youth to my children – the many car rides to White Castle after school to get 4 White Castle hamburgers, two small fries and 2 Cokes for 99 cents. My antique car brings to life the tales of their antique mother. So much richer our lives for caring for what was more typically an item to be cast off 40 years ago.
I love shopping at thrift stores, continuing to use items that have so much wear left that it would be sickening to throw them out. I enjoy wearing outfits I’ve had for decades and am amused by the compliments or questions of where I got such a cool outfit. I hate when houses are torn down so new ones can be built. It’s not just excess consumerism that is disturbing. The tug at my heart is the importance of valuing the past and recognizing the beauty of its voice speaking into the present and future.
I’m not advocating hoarding or keeping cars beyond their useful lives. I am suggesting becoming more mindful of where we place our priorities when it comes to throwing out the old and bringing in the new. Perhaps as our younger generations are influenced to see the value in some of their older possessions they will also see the special voices that their more senior relatives can share with them as well. Appreciating the beauty in what has come before can lead us to having a heart for the often disregarded stories and lives fading away in our many nursing homes.
Before you toss out Bobbe’s china, maybe ask her about some of the times around the family table she can remember when each piece was set with care. How beautiful it must have been to talk to each other without incessantly checking Facebook on our cell phones. Before donating that old dog-eared book try to put yourself in the shoes of the perhaps long gone relative who read it over and over again. And ask why? What was he or she like? What were their interests? As you ask whether your daughter or granddaughter would like your old ballet shoes, smile together over stories of those recitals and the costumes. Oy! And is that Grandpa’s WWII or Korean war uniform? Where was he stationed? Hold old was he when he came to the United States? What did his father do? Where did their family come from? What was life like in Russia (or wherever) then?
Soon the tellers of these stories will no longer be here to share the richness of their lives, the history that is part of each of us today. What would HaShem want us to learn from this knowledge? How can we grow? How do we not make the same mistakes? How can we treat others more kindly?
I guess we’ll be careful in cleaning out that attic . . .