Leave it to my husband to get to the heart of an issue. He doesn’t mean to be rude, irreverent, or for that matter, simplistic in his thinking. In fact, if you were to insinuate he lacked tact, which some have been known to do, albeit in the nicest of ways, he would be highly offended. He just tells it like he sees it. For that reason, after almost twenty- nine years of marriage, I seldom ask his opinion unless I am fairly confident of the answer. This saves arguments and hurt feelings. Sometimes though, he still manages to surprise me.
After a week of spring-cleaning I was tired of dusting and organizing all the items displayed on shelves, stuffed in drawers, and thrown in closets. Plus, I know better than to begin a question with “Do you think I really need…” That’s just asking for it, but I was frustrated with all the things lying around the house. I expected his standard retort of “If you don’t want it, get rid of it,” or maybe “What are you waiting for?” or even his usual “Why are you even asking me? You know better than I do”
Instead, he peered over the top of the Saturday newspaper, stared at me for a few seconds (he does so like dramatic pauses), then quietly asked “Tell me again, how big is your casket going to be?” Ouch!
And yet, if you think about it, he was so right! The size of a standard casket is about seven feet by two feet, and even if you take out the satin padded lining and pillow top, there is not a lot of room inside. Once you account for normal body mass, and shoes of course – although I don’t know if I have ever seen the feet of a deceased family member; maybe everyone is buried barefooted – there is not a lot of room for all the items we try so hard to accumulate in a lifetime.
Great Grandma’s cocoa pot, five cups, and four saucers come to my mind, probably because I have just completed their annual cleaning and returned them to their shelf. Great Grandma brought them over from Poland when her family immigrated to Northern Michigan in the late 1800’s, making them about a hundred years old. My mother inherited them, and then gave the set to me – straight from her attic in the same box her mother had given them to her, because they were too “good” to use. I at least have them on display in a glass cabinet, but I’m not too sure they can withstand the pressure of being buried next to me in my casket.
Even if they could, I would need to decide whether or not there was room to also take the sterling silverware and tea set my mother-in-law gave me, or the crystal chandelier, or maybe the antique set of smoking pipes hanging in the study. Come to
think of it, maybe they can fold my arms around the oil painting my husband’s aunt painted sixty years ago. If it were lying on top of my chest there would still be room for the silver and china. Then, if they wrap me up in my mother’s fur coat, I could take that with me too.
Silly? Of course it is, and that is the point my husband so eloquently illustrated with his simple-minded, sarcastic retort. We can’t take anything with us. Regardless of our age when we leave this world, we will depart with the exact same number of items we had when we arrived. I can only speak for myself, but I came into this world with nothing, and I will not be taking anything with me. Neither will my husband, our parents, or even the neighbor down the street who leases a new Jaguar every other year.
Visiting my mom and dad last month we began talking about how humans spend the first half of their lives accumulating, or trying to accumulate, the trappings of success and the second half of their lives trying to give it away. Mentioning my husband’s insightful comment to them, they not only agreed, they have since appropriated it for themselves. If one of them wants to give away something, or use an item that by today’s standard would be considered valuable, they justify it by saying, “Well, it won’t fit in my casket anyway.” They find it liberating, and wish they had started thinking this way years earlier.
Maybe the desire to have “things” is what makes us human, gives us our identity. We are instilled at an early age to strive for success, and success today, whether we like it or not, is measured by the amount of material possessions we own, or will own after the debt is paid off. The problem occurs, I am coming to believe, is when we allow the process of owning to override the process of enjoying. God said “Thy shall not covet thy neighbors goods”. He didn’t say “Thy shall not enjoy the fruits of your labor.”
So, the next time you are in a quandary about whether or not to keep something just for the sake of keeping it, or feel the need to purchase something just for the sake of owning it, stop and think. Will it fit inside your casket? You will be surprised how quickly you will learn to simplify, and enjoy, the things that mean the most to you today. Who knows, you may even find yourself sipping homemade cocoa out of a hundred year old china cocoa cup.
Copyright 2009 Carol S. Bannon