One of my favorite past times is visiting resale shops. I especially enjoy looking at old furniture and furnishings, imagining how things might have been used and where I might have a new use for it. Over the last five years, one of my goals has been to reinvigorate the respectful use of the Patio. The challenge is to make the building a relevant and useful part of the daily school function, while preserving the historical significance and maintaining the personal character of the Patio as a family home. With some annual proceeds from the Green Concerts hosted in the Patio for the past three years, we have been able to reupholster existing furniture and acquire some new pieces from our own annual Garage Sale and from my visits to resale shops on weekends and vacations. With the addition of custom draperies crafted by Ms. Patty Atkinson last Fall, the Patio is developing a warm and inviting ambiance that allows guests to feel welcome and also encourages our office staff that now work in the building to be ever more aware and proud of the important legacy we have been entrusted to manage.
As I was discussing one of my most recent resale shop visits and “finds” with my family over the Easter holidays, we were reflecting on all of the STUFF we accumulate in our homes during our lifetimes. And like many families in lifestyle transitions, I have a generation of family members who are looking to “down-size.” That means, in most cases, that they are faced with the challenge of getting rid of STUFF that they have accumulated over the years. This process often involves making difficult decisions – decisions that often provoke questions such as, “Do I ever use this? How can I part with this sentimental piece?” and “Will my kids really want this STUFF?” In the end, after responding to these questions, we usually have a pile of STUFF we are ready to donate, pass along to relatives, place in a yard sale, or consign to a shop for resale. This process of shedding years of accumulated STUFF offers us the opportunity to consider that we are truly just stewards of what we have come to accumulate, taking care of it for awhile and passing it along for someone else to enjoy.
Stewardship. I knew the term, but the concept struck me differently during this latest family discussion about our STUFF right after the Holy Week and Easter celebrations. The passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus accentuated for me the temporal and delicate nature of our lives. I was reminded that all of the STUFF we accumulate in this life is left behind when we pass away.
In William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” Prospero says to his daughter and her fiancé, the Prince of Naples, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” (Act IV, Scene I) We have come to use the phrase, the “stuff of dreams” to describe events we believe are just too fantastic to come true, but yet they do. Shakespeare, in my opinion, was alluding to the temporary nature of our lives, and the illusion of permanence that STUFF creates.
The work to secure and preserve this STUFF – most of which ends up in resale shops – I thought initially seemed futile. Then, I considered the memories, the work, and the experiences associated with the STUFF and it became clearer to me that it is more important how we use the STUFF with which we have been blessed, rather than the objective and potentially fleeting “value” of the STUFF. For example, my mother loved to have her back scratched- a family trait that I inherited. I have two of her back scratchers – a wooden one and an orange plastic one that reads, “Virginia is for lovers,” on it, along with the original sticker price of $1.50. I value these back scratchers more than other more valuable (and perhaps necessary) STUFF I own, because they remind me of my mother.
In thinking about the life of Jesus, very little remained of his personal effects after he died. Other than soldiers gambling for his tunic, and the burial shroud left behind in the tomb, we are not told of any other personal items he owned. The Last Supper occurred in someone’s upper room, and even his grave was borrowed. His body was assumed into heaven. He left behind only his teachings and his experiences with his disciples. He fortified them by sending the Holy Spirit to be with them, assuring them that he would be with them always until the end of the world.
I believe that, in a similar way, the relatives and friends who have left us behind are with us in Spirit, not because we have held onto a cherished possession that reminds us of them, but because of the relationships and experiences we had with them when they were with us in this life. That thought makes it easier for me to part with STUFF, even my orange plastic back scratcher some day.
My wish for the members of the Archmere community during this Easter season and in these last few weeks of the school year is to focus on making the most of positive experiences and relationships. In the end, after a lifetime and career of successfully compiling all of the STUFF that we need and think we need to live and be happy, we will cherish most the time we spent in developing meaningful relationships with others that will become lasting memories, long after all of the STUFF is gone.