I usually hit delete even before reading sappy e-mail forwards. The older you get, the more of them come your way. They come from friends who've lost husbands through death or divorce, or newly retired women who sit at their computer early in the morning - as you get older you start waking up ridiculously early. As they sip their coffee, they begin reading and passing on the forwards that have come in from other friends who are also up way too early.
I wonder what women alone did in those early morning hours before computers? Men alone with too much time on their hands seem to pass on raunchy jokes. Well, actually, quite a few of my women friends also forward raunchy jokes. The butt of their jokes are usually men - the same kind of men passing on their brand of raunch. God bless them all.
Anyway, I was deleting a nice little sentimental forward from someone I'm very fond of, but happened to read the last two lines just before I hit delete.
"People are made to be loved, and things are made to be used - there is so much confusion in this world because people are being used and things are being loved."
That line cut through my morning haze, and stayed with me throughout the day.
I'm at that crossroads with "things" again as I'm packing up to move from one house to another. I just did this a year ago prior to my cross-country move from Washington, D.C., to Lawrence. I thought I had stripped my "things" down to the bare minimum but now am discovering I kept a lot of things I don't need. But this time it's easier. Anything I haven't used or haven't worn in the year since moving to Lawrence is going out - that is unless it carries sentimental/historical significance that outweighs the usefulness factor. Therein lies the rub. I'm pretty sentimental ... and obsessed with family history.
It has started this whole debate in my head. Why do we become so attached to things? Why do people work two jobs, barely seeing their families, so they can own a bigger flatscreen TV or a third family car? Why are people in urban areas willing to live in far-out suburbs and commute three hours a day on ridiculously clogged roads so they can live in a bigger house? Why do people charge up their credit cards beyond all ability to pay in order to buy things they want but don't need or take risky mortgages for houses they can't afford? Why do otherwise good people continually shortchange the ones they love just so they can acquire more things? We do it at the personal level. We also do it at the national level, sacrificing people so we can acquire territory or material. (At the state level, many legislators seem willing to sacrifice Kansans' health to give Denver the electricity to sprawl farther). We see it in our judiciary when harsher punishments are meted out for crimes against property than for crimes against people.
A couple of years ago when teaching in an affluent suburban high school, I asked my students to turn in essays imagining their futures in 20 years. They all turned in essays about the fancy cars and fancy homes they hoped to own down the road. So I'm not too confident that values are going to turn around in the next generation.
And now that times are getting tough - come on, we're in a recession, we all know it - the really big question is: Why does our whole economy rise or fall based on how much stuff "consumers" buy? Since that's the case, by the way, the whole stimulus package to stave off recession will fail if people use that $600 check from the government to pay off debt or (gasp!) save it. The government economic experts aren't worried, however. They know that if you give Americans $600, they will run out and spend it on THINGS.
(I plan to spend my check on a local moving company.)
So, back to my things - the things I've bought over a lifetime, half of which I didn't really need and now ought to part with. As I pack, the rule is going to be: Keep the things I use. Cherish the people I love. Don't get the two confused.
The things go in boxes. The people remain in my heart - they are easier to move because they are buoyant. Their presence in my life or in my memory, make the things in my boxes less important and easier to lift.