My in-laws brought me a big box of costume jewelry because they know I’m a thrifter. I love digging through boxes at garage sales and junk stores. The hope that I’ll find something funny or beautiful or interesting or useful keeps me stopping in at Goodwill on a regular basis. So, a box filled with cheap old jewelry was right up my alley, and they knew it.
I spent my afternoon carefully sorting through each plastic bag filled haphazardly with the trappings of a lower middle class life: wooden beads, sequins, and plastic baubles that shone about like bubblegum machine prizes. The styles in the box spanned several decades, from the 70s up until the mid 90s, with every shape, size, style and color represented by at least one earring or a pendant with missing stones.
She was a saver.
She was a collector of the most interesting sort, one who didn’t discriminate based on value, one who kept what she liked because she liked it, and for no other reason.
When I was younger it used to grieve me to go into antique stores and find old family photos, whole albums of them, sitting there gathering dust, people and their memories completely forgotten by those who should have cared. And, the old letters! Don’t even get me started on how many hundreds of dollars I was dying to spend on old letters and postcards, just so that I could help to preserve strangers’ memories when their loved ones didn’t care to.
And, in some ways I felt the same way about this box of junk jewelry. Her #1 Mom pin. Her hand-crocheted Christmas wreath brooch. Her seashell necklace. Her collection of patriotic trinkets. They are all tiny reflections of who she was and the experiences that she had. And, now, they are in my living room, and most of them will soon be inside my dumpster.
Why does this happen to us? Why, when we go to estate sales, do our lives seem to be reduced to the sum of the weird books on our dusty bookshelves, the old golf clubs in our garages, and the faded shoe boxes hidden away on high closet shelves? Why is it that when we are gone, the stuff that we spent our lives collecting just doesn’t mean that much to those we leave behind?
Well, I’ll tell you why, if you really want to know.
It’s because the stuff we accumulate in this life is nothing more than fun little mementos that are on a one-way track to someone’s dumpster. It might not happen right away. No, when our lives are over, our family members may keep little souvenirs of our lives around for awhile. But, eventually, when enough time has passed, when enough generations have come and gone, even the most treasured of our treasures will likely disappear, resting forever in a landfill someplace, or sitting in some antique store where strangers walk by and pity us for being forgotten by those who should have cared.
Cheery thought, right?
But, here’s the thing. That’s all the more reason for us to quit worrying about what we can manage to grab for ourselves in this life. It’s reason for my sweet friends in Dallas to stop feeling like they’re being one-upped by their luxury SUV-driving neighbors. It’s reason for us to quit obsessing over which junk we own and which junk we want to own: we can put things in perspective when we realize that the cold hard truth of the matter is that it’s all junk that doesn’t last and doesn’t matter.
There is only one thing that we can pass on to our children and our children’s children that they will hold fast to, that they won’t lay aside or sell off or discard: a strong, true, unwavering faith in the God of the universe. Maybe we should spend more time trying to cultivate that faith in our lives and less time trying to figure out how we’re going to get our kids the new iPhone.
I did keep a few of my favorite pieces of costume jewelry from the box. A Christmas pin. A child’s ring. An old pair of glasses. I’ll stick them in my drawer, and maybe from time to time I’ll look at them or use them in some way. And then, when I’m dead and gone, my kids will find them and they’ll toss them in a garage sale box.
I’m okay with that. I plan to pass on what I really care about in the form of a life well-lived for Christ. Everything else is just job security for the garbage men of the world.