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It’s been quite a while, decades, since I felt a form of funeral (a word that once had a doubled letter n in its body) experience at the sale of things from my parents’ home. The need to get rid of multiple items of furniture was completely necessary. There is a limit on the number of kitchen chairs or tables a person needs and a stricter limit yet on space to keep them. A fecund and growing farm family might make use of a dozen kitchen chairs and multiple boards. I had no use for anywhere near that much seating and table space. Being necessary and rational to downsize made it no easier to see a 20’s era red and white decorated porcelain top table leave my life forever. I’d downed many a bowl of childhood Cheerios at that table; my mind tracing the lines of the swooping Oriental Willow as its central motif while watching for a chance to sneak a little more sugar to help satisfy the unmatched hunger calling from my cereal bowl. Being parted from familiar objects has a funeral-like quality a person will best and perhaps only know when they are forced to shed emblematic items from the past.
Not everyone, of course, forms the same deep attachment to objects, but it is a safe bet to say anyone will feel something other and more than neutral emotion when selling off her or his “very first” auto. Things, objects, or material goods are important to us beings for reasons beyond their simple cash cost or used value. If your “very first” auto was integral to many a romantic yearning or took you to a far distant new home the auto has attached to it more than transportation to make it important in life. The use or role things play in the conduct of daily life helps make them significant to us. The ascetic, minimalist, or big-picture spiritualist will often deride materialism as a useless anchor and an impediment to blossoming as a fuller being. Such a pose (I use the term deliberately) sounds quite valid, but a visual artist’s being doesn’t bloom without brushes, paints, and canvas to work with any more than a mechanic displays their mechanical artistry without proper tools. You could apply colors with fingers, toes, and nose or take off machine parts with hands and teeth, but I doubt I’d want much of that on any of my walls nor would I rely on such means to accomplish a satisfactory brake job. Things are basic to humanity for the use we make of them in our personal, shared, and public lives.
The downsize I went through decades past was preparation for the emotional rigors of doing so again with my own adult life. The task is large and must be done. But I don’t know what is more demanding. Is it the physical effort of simply moving one’s accumulated household items or is the bigger strain felt encountering a chipped cup suddenly remembered from near forgotten dinners at grandma’s house on Troop Street? I think, and some of you will revile me for this cruel remark, the minimalist disposition forms of a conceit based on the lie that being human is best known in a dispassionate and disconnected form of individual autonomy. This is often called personal independence without taking into score the unsettling notion that In Dependence is itself a state of Dependence but on a lesser body. The independently set and minded show a different face when they need a dentist or their gall bladder out. For certain needs of the human sort I’m perfectly content being wholly dependent on others. I could fancy I’d like to be in control of landing the plane but as I don’t know how to do that it’s probably a good thing I’m kept out of the cockpit and stay in my seat where at least I’ll not do much harm.
As I stare into the howitzer bore of life some unexpected realizations rise up from the dark barrel. It’s almost amazing the way things pop up to take me by surprise. I put hand to a pick-a-roon or broad hatchet only to have to face a fresh realization. I won’t need this anymore, and even if I were to need it proper and effective handling of the tool has left my stable. Proper use of a hand tool is not for anyone who will start out with a swollen wrist. To some degree age teaches one how to work around or through pains and disabilities, but a lack of strength and handling ability doesn’t mean a better result.
Let me take picking up a canoe paddle made by Frank Powell from Sag. It is a beautiful piece of work handmade from light cedar. I swung that paddle for close to two decades during my canoe guiding time. I could barely guess the number of hours, miles, days and so on I used that paddle. It would even be a challenge to put a name to each body of water where the cedar blade met the world of wet. Not infrequently I’d be on unnamed lakes or flowages. What name goes on the unnamed? There’s none I know. It’s funny though, I don’t feel bad about that. In fact as my mind sorts through the mingled impressions of day on day paddling this water or that the biggest response from inside is a smile of recollection knowing each dart wing skimming near the surface as I paddled on, every lily pad leaf disturbed, and all the hissing waves it met and pulled into leave me with a feeling of happiness and gratitude for all that is nature, all that Frank Powell put into his well-crafted paddle, and all that I did with it.
The time has come to part with some things, with many things, and someday with all things. But if I have to pick through a choice between regret and appreciation I think I’ll favor appreciation every time. Might be that appreciation is the sure cure for regret, and this allows me to put aside Frank’s paddle and feel no regret.