Matthew 6: 19-21 “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.
I helped a friend clean her attic recently. I have spent time reflecting about it since. I know, most people want to finish such a project and put it behind them. The dust…the spider webs…and other creatures you realize may be joining you (though unseen). However, in recent months I have found myself thinking about our life’s journeys. We each have a different one and we each choose to live it uniquely and, hopefully, authentically. How do we do that? Well, I am not a picture person. There is little physical evidence on this earth I exist, particularly if you judge existence by the number of photos you appear in or possessions you own. Does this lack indicate a life wasted or, at a minimum, insufficiently documented?
I saw a quote recently from Louie CK. While not the most appropriate man to quote for a Catholic blog, I appreciated his sentiment. “I don’t like taking pictures with people… It doesn’t feel normal,” CK explained about people’s need to take a selfie with him rather than have an actual conversation. “I always shake their hand and ask their name because everybody is interesting.” Imagine that, he wants to use that brief encounter, just for a moment, to learn about a stranger.
Treasuring a moment should be about closing your eyes, remembering a smell or a sound or a touch. I think we need to find a way to enjoy things beyond literal societal requirements. Observe. Let some things happen, pass, and then reflect. For instance, when you attended the state fair, would you smile at your selfie in front of the Sweet Aunt Martha’s cookie stand or do you remember the taste of the cookies? I am too skeptical for pictures. I see smiles, but I think about what is going on inside. Worries, hopes, ambitions, anxieties, love, hate, joy, sorrow, disappointment, satisfaction, anguish, anger, gratitude. Who are they really? Where do they wish they really were? I want a conversation; I want to hear your feelings. Describe it to me in words so I can feel your emotions; let’s talk.
Why does this have to do with the attic and my friend? There was a lot of “stuff.” To most, much of it would appear to be of little value or consequence. However, with each box there was a new story – Christmas gifts of long ago- some close to 70 years old, an assortment of practical jokes (definitely inappropriate for Catholic blog), retirement gifts marking a well-earned completion of a career, worn back braces from a severe injury. It was fun, almost a game – what used to be in this empty box? Where did it come from; on what occasion; who gave it; and most importantly, what did you feel about it. We built upon the stories as the day went on. Little pieces, little insights. Her son was able to hear about his mom’s childhood and touch and experience the same toys she played with as a child. She was a person, with feelings, memories and stories, not just “mom.” She joked that we were preparing for an estate sale for someone not dead yet. With that her son stopped her and pointed out that without her narrative, without her voice, all of the “stuff” would not have meaning. Now some of it seems priceless. It is the power of her story that gives it value.
At a certain age we start to think about how a particular day, interaction, experience becomes part of the great story of our life, rather than just another day. Who or what will tell our story? Will people wish there would be one more conversation, one more hug, or one more letter or card? (yes, handwritten, with an actual stamp!) One of the coolest treasures we found was a get-well poster with notes from friends and family that was from a surgery over 30 years ago. Seeing familiar names, remembering forgotten faces. Actually hand-made, handwritten (in cursive even!)
The quest for literal documentation is not new. Remember Thomas in the Gospel. In today’s world, Doubting Thomas would have demanded a picture. In the story of Martha and Mary (the sisters) in Luke 10:39-40, “Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving.” I am pretty sure Martha would have had a camera. Maybe we should be like Mary (his mother) who “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19.