Thursday, September 25, 2014

Elegy for a Collector

It seems as if everything from my childhood, everything I grew up with, is all spread out in a sort of barn, all brightly lit up. From the largest piece of furniture (how big it seemed when I was small!) to the smallest toy soldier (kilted highlanders!): everything is on display.

There are people I knew from the past. ("You ran for office, didn't you?") Now someone is calling my name. A pregnant woman. She seems happy to see me, but I can't place her. "It's Heidi! You remember me! I went to federal prison. You was my lawyer." Heidi, yes. Out already? All of her brothers and sisters were named starting with the letter H. She had a brother named Heineken.

There are crowds of people. A woman puts on a headset with a microphone, and begins talking very fast. I can't understand, but people are nodding, or making small gestures. Someone is selling popcorn, so I buy a bag, and sit down to watch the mysterious pageant.

One of the Bear's vivid dreams brought on by too much rich salmon and honey? It felt like it, but no, it was the estate auction from the Bear's childhood home, another step on the long journey of handling his mother's estate.

So much stuff! Mom might not have qualified for Hoarders, but the Bear doesn't think she threw away much. She was a collector, an antiquer, and an occasional junker. Far too much stuff. So much acquired in younger days was a burden later on. And now it was the Bear's burden.

It is hard not to be philosophical as you watch a lifetime being auctioned off.
  • you really can't take it with you
  • it's easy to accumulate too much stuff
  • being able to let go of things is a virtue
  • whatever you leave behind becomes somebody else's immediate problem
  • things that seem important don't seem so important in the face of eternity
  • time like an ever rolling stream really does bear all its sons (and daughters) away
There were moments of sadness: sudden and inexplicable. But there is something about an auction that defies low spirits.

The Bear marveled at how everyone was getting what they wanted.
  • the auction company was getting a percentage of the proceeds
  • the people were getting things they wanted
  • the Bear was wrapping up -- and adding value to -- the estate
It was free enterprise at its best. 

It wasn't just stuff, it was energy: my parent's toil was turned into money; there was effort in hunting for the stuff; then it all magically became new possessions. Sadly, there was energy in holding on to it all, as well. Far too long, far too much energy. Now that energy was being broken up, becoming part of other people's stories. 

St. Corbinian's Bear may be used to carrying burdens, but this is one he will be especially happy to lay down.

He has been out of sorts the past week, however. A kind of mental distemper has clouded his normally happy go lucky Bearishness. Handling an estate has all the worst elements of drudgery, fiduciary responsibility, family drama, and emotion.

Take this as a cautionary tale. As we get older, we imperceptibly pass from owning things to being owned by them. It was otherwise with the saints.


  1. Brilliant!
    I still have boxes packed with parts of my mother's home. My livingroom has boxes from my MIL.
    All of it is hard to part with, but I don't want to be "owned by my stuff"

  2. I can imagine that there is a huge sense of being unburdened now. My mother, in her 90s, is frail but still lives in a home full of the accumulated miscellany of two lifetimes – hers and my late father’s (Dad could not face downsizing). So, in time it will fall to my sister and myself to confront those items.

    I had a “cancer scare” at age 44, and for a week was convinced that that I was looking at a truncated life rather than the one I had been expecting. Everything - all the “things” - that had seemed utterly solid and real to me felt suddenly and terrifyingly beside the point. It took me a while to work out what the point probably was. That process began, I think, with noticing that after days of feeling eerily disconnected from books, magazines, and even people, the only thing that could hold my attention was a television documentary about traditions involving angels. It turned up during what I’d assumed would be yet another futile round of channel-surfing. Curious happenstance, I thought at the time. Now I’m inclined to think of it as having been one of those “lovers’ games” that St. Teresa wrote of. God knew I was going receive a clean bill of health - but it was His pleasure to give my life back to me enhanced.

  3. I want to get rid of stuff. Others, like the kids, keep bringing stuff in. Mother brings stuff that I don't care about. I've put many a thing from her in charity pick up boxes. I want to be free of stuff. The only things I think of buying are clothes for the kids and us, as we need them, and food and other household staples. I need no new accessories or 'toys.' Oh, we do like books but sell them back or donate them.

    The process you went through must have been emotional. My grandma downsized and mom and her siblings did the sorting and dumping. We took a few nice things. We have in-laws who hoard. They live in the deceased parents' home. I can't even imagine making an effort to sort for anything worthwhile. I'd just as soon have the house razed and all things shoveled into a dumpster. That is sad. There are probably important things not to be overlooked.

  4. It's not so much the things, but the attachment to them. Well, God has a fool-proof plan for all of us on that front.

    1. To clarify: You are right. I am not referring to material value of things, but those to which we actually have emotional attachment, memories, etc. But, yes, there could be some materially worthy items in the pile, but who wants to hunt.


Moderation is On.

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