Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Unbearable Heaviness of Having (apologies to Milan Kundera)

I look around the house and think, I wish I could get rid of all this stuff that’s cluttering up my life and my mind.

Suddenly, I recall an old joke: A new construction worker shows up on the job. Lunchtime comes, he opens his bag and takes out a sandwich. “Damn,” he says, “peanut  butter.” Next day, same thing: “Dammit, peanut butter again.” This goes on for the rest of the week. Finally, on Friday, one of the other guys says, “Why don’t you ask your wife to give you something different for lunch?” What wife?” he replies. “I make my own lunch.”

Who exactly is it who’s stopping me from just chucking all these possessions, all the old nameplates from past jobs, all the coffee mugs from defunct radio stations, all the office supplies and Sinatra LPs? My dead husband will not haunt me if I throw out this leather coaster with his business logo stamped in the middle. I am really making my own lunch here.

Items I can pass along are easier: furniture for the formerly homeless, clothing for those still living on the streets, art supplies to one of my favorite local groups, the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC, pronounced "smirk"). I invited family over for a big giveaway party, but it was not a great success. My daughter takes off to hike around Europe every summer with fewer possessions than I require for a day driving around Portland, and I could tell by people’s faces that no one was thinking “Whoo-hoo! Free stuff!” Well, one person was: me. Nothing stops that natural reaction, that frisson of excitement--not even when the stuff consists of my own personal albatrosses.

In a bit of good timing, however, my tai chi group decided to hold a fundraising rummage sale, for which, not surprisingly, I am the lead volunteer. I am gradually learning to greet the latest drop-offs with detached interest (rather than “Whoo-hoo! Free stuff!”)--and I have contributed maybe twenty cartons filled with those old coffee mugs and nameplates and the other miscellaneous detritus of my past.

There is a point at which our possessions become our possessors. Not only do we put out our wrists, we are kind enough to purchase or forge the handcuffs. We enclose ourselves in jails of our own making.

Every day we put together our own little peanut butter sandwich.

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