I am blessed with many beautiful things in my life. Some are materialistic while the ones that matter most are loved ones, both human and canine or feline, friendships both near and far. There is one material item I cherish because it is luxurious, warm and given to me by my daughter, eight years ago for Christmas. It is a lovely soft, blue cashmere robe. I rarely go to the dry-cleaners and even with this lovely item, I hand washed it in mild soap. I always had great results except for the few wrinkles that hand washing left behind in spite of fabric softener. Recently, I asked my daughter what she does with her cashmere sweaters and she said she always gets them dry-cleaned. Since I had spilled egg yolk onto my beloved robe I thought it was time to visit the dry-cleaner. When I dropped off the robe at the cleaners, I pointed out the egg yolk and they assured me they would take care of it.
A week later when I returned to rescue my beautiful item from the bondage of the cleaners, I got it home to find a note pinned to it. It said, “We did the best we could.” Upon examining the lapel of my robe I found a hole the size of a half dollar where the threads were visible. They had rubbed it to death. I was heartsick. Beating myself up for not washing it by hand as I always had, I reached for the phone to get my daughter’s commiseration. When I told her I said, “Guess I’ll just put it away for now.” She responded with some indignation toward the cleaner then said, “Oh Mom, use it. Enjoy it. We can always get you another one.”
Well, you all know the way my mind works and I immediately could see a blog in that experience. The more I thought about it the more I realized we all could follow such sage advice as we wander through this life and learn to use it up. When you look around your home, I would guess you have items in your home you are reluctant to use like dusty candles, too pretty to burn; lovely dishes for special occasions that you’ve used only a few times in their life and yours, among many other things. If you’re as forgetful as I am, you can even forget to use that special tablecloth or that special three-piece tiered dish with the roses all over it. Another year passes by and the lovely things are left in the cupboard, where they cannot be seen, used or appreciated. We have clothes which actually gather dust hanging in the closet. Pans never used and on and on the list grows. As we change, our need for these things usually changes.
Then there are the items that have such great sentimental value they are taking up space in your home and contributing nothing to your life. You simply can’t bear to part with them. We have three cedar chests in our home that are filled with everyday items from my husband’s family. We are surrounded by “stuff.” One thing about that particular “stuff” is that is has already been used up by someone else or in some cases they passed away without using them up. When do we learn to say goodbye? Why is it so hard to do?
I have a friend who saved special items for her grandchildren, like a Shirley Temple doll and the grands, although they are girls, don’t like dolls. We can’t impose our taste, our memories or our wishes onto others. We often have our own pile of belongings and somehow it grows and grows. I’ve always been intrigued by the dealers in used items. When, for instance, does an item become worthy enough to go from the Goodwill store to the estate sale? Who makes the decision whether something is garage sale or rare and goes onto Ebay? Who determines what is valuable and what is not? Is it the age of the item, the number of them available or the sheer beauty of it? We have to remember the true adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is it not?
I have another dear friend who lives by the philosophy, when it comes to her money at least, she is going to use it all up. She says, “The children are going to get the house but I’m spending my money and not saving it for them.” I know her children aren’t starving to death and her attitude is one I find commendable as she uses it all up. I should point out she has many health problems and goes everywhere in life, rarely slowing down, with a walker. I love her zest for living. She is one of my heroes.
I’m sure many of you have discovered as your health fails, you are diagnosed with a painful or chronic condition, your priorities have changed. Inevitably this change comes with age but for some, it is illness that brings about the change. You begin to see life through new eyes. “Getting somewhere” in life has suddenly become, “How do I get to the store today, feeling the way I do?” Other days it may even be as simple as, “How am I going to take a shower today or even get to and from the bathroom?”
Simplicity becomes the new rule. Ease of care for our homes, families and our own bodies takes center stage. Lives once lived for the job, a new or better car or adding to a savings account are now filled with the complexities of health insurance, the agonizing prices of medication and just surviving whatever current crisis our body is in.
I live in a very ordinary Victorian home, surrounded by antiques. I am a lover of materialistic things but I have found my preferences changing as some of these lovely things, or purely sentimental items simply become something I have to dust. I saw this occur with my Mom after my Dad died as she moved into smaller and smaller places to live, finally ending up in a nursing home for the last six years of her life, isolated from all she had once cherished, unhappy and isolated. Her words and attitude driving others away from her it was tragic to see.
It is not just the materialistic belongings in our lives that may need to be used up, given away, etc. I know you and I have relatives, friends and acquaintances we would like to know more intimately yet have not had time to enjoy. Life is busy when it is free of poor health, free of daily pain and anxiety. I have realized as I age and become more ill the importance of using those relationships. I don’t mean using as in taking advantage of, no, I mean it as not to ignore but to appreciate and use to give and to receive love, memories and experiences. We each learn as we live each day. If we are not learning, we are not growing. I have come to value the importance of growth, no matter what our circumstance.
I have another old friend who is always longing for what was and wanting to undo every decision she has made. As the famous author, Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” Life has a pulse, a growth pattern of constant change and we must change and adapt to stay alive. That doesn’t have to include complicated technology, perhaps, I know I will never be a computer genius. It does mean to have our eyes open and realize how we and others around us keep flowing on. Thomas Wolfe also said, “Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly but keep on going. Don’t freeze up.”
I know a few individuals who have “frozen up.” They are no longer finding pleasure in either possessions, hobbies or family and friends. These individuals are isolated to the point of tragedy. Many of life’s events seem to threaten to do that to us such as a major change in health, the death of a spouse or often a change of setting. Don’t freeze up. Life won’t wait for you.
As I remind myself life flows on, I am also aware of much of life that never changes. This would include our memories, the fragrant breath of a newborn baby, the cawing of a crow with some mischief in mind, the amazing configuration of a newly fallen leaf as it glides to the earth to join its friends on the soft ground below. It would also include the constant presence of a loving God, the sparks in the eyes of a small child seeing fireworks for the first time, the magical music in the sound of laughter and the amazing sparkle of sunlight through soft rain.
Each of us must face, discover and decide what to use up, what to simply leave behind and where the truth lies in our own lives. Aging, chronic pain and sudden illness all force us into decision making, whether we are conscious of it or not. Let us each remember to observe, relate and appreciate. “I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once,” Thomas Wolfe circa. 1940.
That is still a beautiful thought, as true today as it was when he wrote it. Take the time and effort to look a thousand times. This reminds me of those things, relationships and experiences which, if we are wise, we will never use up. These categories would include dreams, plans, new ideas, beautiful thoughts and a renewed appreciation for almost any area of life.
“Look carefully my friend at the oak tree—for it is especially like unto you. You cannot, by taking thought, add one inch to your stature. But you can, by being true to the law of your own being, by giving yourself—even as the tree gives itself to the air and the sunshine—in perfect trust to the great Father who governs all things, both the lilies and you—draw unto yourself exactly the opportunities, the environment, the friends that you need—and your success will be measured only by the dreams and desire which are rooted within your own integrated, unified self,” Glenn Clark, Christian writer and teacher. He went on to say the man he was speaking to “…sat there and stared at the oak, until it became no longer a fancy or a dream, but a living fact—that the law which governed the oak also governed him, and that which was his could not ever escape him and that which was not his could never really belong to him. And days went on and a great quietness came into his soul. But as he passed the oak one day, he suddenly knew why it had come to him. For he knew that within the oak there was a power that was continually creating that which its inner nature craved from the silent elements without. And great calmness stayed with that man, a calmness that to others seemed colossal when those about him seemed lost in inconsequential things.”
Please, my friends, let us jointly use it up, burn the beautiful candles, use our best dishes and share the beauty, strength and joy of life with others because of our pain and illness—not in spite of it. Come along with me as we jointly search for the meaning that each of our lives was designed to fill. Let us use up our talents, use our dreams at whatever age we are and always believe we are part of a divine plan, specifically meant for us—to use up.