My husband has been cleaning out the garage the past couple of months — giving it order and practicality and ridding it of all things unnecessary. Which would include all of my belongings housed there, apparently.
Originally, the garage — built 18 years ago — had a definite organization. A place for everything and everything in its place. But I managed to sneak in a few of my belongings for which I had no use but imagined some emotional connection or future need that made the items treasures. Buried (in the garage) treasure, tucked on shelves behind other items, hidden and safe. And relatively forgotten.
My husband — in his in-depth, shelf-by-shelf cleaning — simply placed my boxes of items in a stack and asked me to go through them and store what I wanted elsewhere. “To keep or not to keep?” seemed to be my question.
Surprisingly, the stack didn’t include my Underwood manual typewriter in its hardbound leather case or my well-used Gemeinhardt flute or the donated oboe I never did learn to play. Nor did it include the boxes of books I had intended to sell or donate. Where are those items hiding?
He did stack a box filled with all three workbooks of Bible study notes for the book of Romans — diligently completed in beautiful handwriting. A box with random champagne glasses, a silver dish (untarnished!), and costume jewelry passed down to me. And my box of dusty trophies and medals and matted, crushed ribbons from my early days.
I went through the box of Bible study notes, page by page, and saved just one single piece of notebook paper on which I’d written a poem — my takeaway from the months of study I’d completed on the book of Romans during my first husband’s lingering illness and sudden death. The poem captured my understanding of God’s intense and amazing love in that tragic time — when I needed God’s love and understanding most.
I sent the champagne glasses to the dishwasher, placed the silver dish within the china cabinet for future use, and kept the costume jewelry in hopes I could at least use some of the components in my future beading projects. But the box of trophies was a little harder to disperse.
I lovingly pulled the items from the box one by one, remembering the 75 miles I walked throughout my fifth grade year in half mile increments, the moment my name was attached to the title “Outstanding Sixth Grade Girl” at Alta Vista Elementary School, the swim team and softball seasons, and my accomplishments in competing for McDonald’s All-American status. (I also jumped when I realized the box contained a slow-moving lizard; thank God it was a cold day! Startled by me, it jumped from the box and ran to the relative safety of the flower arrangement in the middle of the table. My cat, relaxing nearby, noticed nothing.)
As I went through the box, my husband walked through the room and apologized for evicting me from the garage (though he did not reverse his decision). He saw my dilemma (to keep or not to keep?) and simply said,
“You know, I’ve never seen a patient bring trophies into the nursing home.”
I arranged the trophies for a final photo shoot — knowing I would not be bringing even a photo of old trophies with me into the nursing home (if I ever had to go to one). As a girl, I had tacked ribbons all over my wall and kept my trophies in prominent position in my bedroom. I let them mark my successes and accomplishments and took joy in accumulating more and more, as if more made me more significant. As I sorted them this day into the best, though dusty, order, I noted each one individually and realized that very few had marked any true accomplishment on my part. Some soiled ribbons were for swim contests I had won. Aside from the 75 miler, the accolade from sixth grade, and the McDonald’s memorabilia, the rest represented merely participation. But I found that none of the tarnished, pitted, dusty awards meant more than the life experiences they represented or the fond memories I cherished.
And so I placed them back in the box, hoisted the box to set it inside our outside trash bin, peered at it for one last goodbye, and gently closed the black lid. Rather than likening it to the closing of a coffin, I found it more like reaching the last page of a good book. I hate for the story to end but am happy to have it in my memory stores.
The Bible is clear that our treasure isn’t here — certainly not in something my husband unearthed in his garage that for the most part represented my indecision 18 years ago. Even then I didn’t want to decide “not to keep” — though I obviously didn’t want the items enough “to keep” them inside the house. I’m thinking that “to keep or not to keep?” may be the wrong question for me.
If only Jesus had been a bit more descriptive in his warning:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth (and lizards) and rust (and dust) destroy…” (Matthew 6:19).
Those added parenthetical words might have pointed to the heart of the question I should have been asking myself all along:
“To dust or not to dust?”
Now THAT is the question I should have been asking — for that is easily answered.
Definitely, “not to dust”; therefore, “not to keep.”
Maybe I can get my husband to start cleaning out the house too…