Thursday, February 22, 2007

Remember that you are dust....

In my religious tradition, yesterday was a big day - Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent. For most people, the emphasis on Ash Wednesday is on repentance. But the day is also meant to be a time for meditating on our mortality. I know that for me, this is certainly a large part of the force of the day. As the minister who puts the ashes on people's heads, it is a strange and difficult (and intimate) thing to say to each of them as I do it, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." In more high church traditions, I think people generally say, "Amen." Being Baptists, and not so accustomed to the tradition of the ashes, our folks generally say, "Thank you." I stand up there and tell people they are going to die - and they thank me.

Me? I don't feel so thankful. Perhaps I am a morbid sort, more preoccupied with thoughts of my own mortality than I should be. It started when I was about six years old, and I first realized that my parents would die some day; my sadness over the brutal fact of death has remained with me. Having children has made that sadness all the more acute.

What does this have to do with the Seven Things Project? Startlingly, a lot. I think that one of the reasons I cling to my stuff with such ferocity is that on some subconscious level I think I can hang onto life - all the lost life behind me, all the time already gone. The baby clothes that belonged to my sweet boys? Maybe if I keep the clothes the boys will be fat little babies again some day. The shoes my mother gave me that were hers before she became paralyzed and no longer could wear them (since her feet have swelled to a much larger size), but that have never fit me? Perhaps if I keep them she will walk again some day. The answering machine I have not used or needed for six years, but that has a single message still on it, from my grandmother (who died five years ago), from July 2000, on the event of my engagement, calling to say she wished us "a world of happiness"? Maybe if I hang on to that recording, she will somehow come back.

Irrational, all of it, I know this. Re-reading my words right now, I see it makes no sense at all. There is no going back. Time always races inexorably to the future. Hanging on to bits of the past does not change that, and cannot. I am dust, all of this is dust, and my holding on to so much stuff does not change those facts, it only props up my own illusions.

This is very close to the heart of the issue of stuff for me, or maybe it is the heart. Death, grief, time. Stuff is my defense.

Is getting rid of seven things a week (or thereabouts) changing anything for me? I don't know. For now I guess it's mostly just forcing me to confront my own illusions, and to deal more squarely with my grief over things that cannot be changed.

All of this feels rather intimate and vulnerable and raw to be putting out into cyberspace. But this little project of mine was never meant to be just a random series of Saturday Sevens - it was intended to be an experiment and an exploration, a true grappling with what is going on with me and my things. And the stuff I've written here tonight - it's a true grappling, for sure.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know that its hard to let go of some things in the past. Treasuring the memories for me is hanging onto a few of the baby clothes that my girls grew out of, photos, handkerchief and jewelry of my recently passed grandmother, etc. I choose to tuck these few items away for safe keeping, so, I could have something to hang onto.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

What a beautiful meditation.

I find your blog very inspiring, thank you.

6:36 AM  
Blogger TheAmpuT said...

Thank you so very much for sharing your reflections.

I spent all of last year performing in a dancetheater production that had much to do with death and impermanance. Meanwhile, I had been purging unneccessaries from my home, too. Yet I still have some 20 pairs of shoes that I'll never wear again(because I became an amputee 3 years ago), yet I can't seem to part with them.

Sometimes I think life is just a series of "little deaths." Although I'm growing to understand the fleeting nature of all things, I have not considerred the link between "the events" and "the stuff." Thank you so much for you thoughts.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, wow, that is so powerful and I needed to read that today. I think you have hit the core of it, the reason we hang on to it all.

7:13 PM  
Blogger analisa_roche said...

Yes. I treat my stuff the way I treat food. I am a member of OA. I have somehow been trained to think that there can never be *enough* - enough things, enough food, I catch myself thinking the same way you do - if I eat more now, maybe I won't get hungry later. If I hold onto my stuff, maybe I won't ever *need* anything again. It just doesn't work that way, does it?

2:55 PM  

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