The Museum of Me

 In Family, Fred's Blog, Inheritance, People, Relationships, Transitions, Uncategorized
Listen to “The Museum of Me” by Fred Smith

 

Two of our best friends are moving away so we had one last dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant. Among so much else, we talked about the emotional difficulty of deciding what to keep and what to throw away. We all face that when we move but there is something about what feels like the last move that makes everything seem more final and serious. It’s not just tossing trash and the normal detritus we’ve accumulated.  Much of that has been dispatched in previous moves but now we are down to what really matters. These are things that define us and, even though perhaps meaningless to others, have become a part not only of our memories but our identities. They are both memories and mirrors. Yes, it’s only a ticket stub from a football game but that was the Dad’s weekend game with my daughter her freshman year. It’s just a scribbled note but from a young man who later took his life. It’s only a worn book with a lovely inscription but glued inside is a picture with a personal note from the author as a young woman.  We all have the three piles labeled “Throw”, “Keep” and “Decide Later” but it seems the third grows faster than the others.  After all this time we should have settled this – but we haven’t.  Yes, before making any new purchases or adding to the clutter we ask ourselves “Will our children want this?” Still, even when no one else would have any interest in the note, the book or the stub there is something that keeps us from dropping them in the pile labeled “Trash”.

After leaving them that night, I started thinking about this from another angle completely. “What am I saying about my life when I start disposing of what I think will be of value to none but me?” Does it say I have reached a point in life when the primary task is reducing reminders of what has given me joy – or sorrow? Is it settling with who I used to be and putting it aside? Perhaps, my job now is to simplify or take seriously not being tied to these things. Turn loose and don’t let them use up so much space in your life! Clean out the cabinets and the shelves of everything that serves no purpose or will not have meaning or value for someone later.

But, I don’t want to do that. I am not reconciled to saying this stage is simply reducing what I have accumulated in every other phase of my life and now is living with the few things that survive. I know there will come the time when that will be necessary but, for now, I want to say the next several years should be spent collecting even more memories, books, notes, and stubs. Otherwise, I am cleaning the room, closing the door, and waiting for the end.  I would be carefully curating a limited collection in the “museum of me” with no new acquisitions or variety – just rearranging a diminishing inventory. Reducing my life to the essentials doesn’t look like much of a future to me.  I want new clutter, new books, mementos, memories and evidence of relationships and experiences. It’s a new stage but not for paring back unless it is to make room for what is next.

I don’t want “recollect” to mean looking back on what was. I want it to mean I will start collecting again and add to what is already there. I want stuff for the next stage and a new wing for the museum. Honestly, I don’t want all the treasures of King Tut’s tomb. I do want silly things, sad things, mundane things that may mean absolutely nothing to anyone else but they will mean I have not resigned myself to reducing the horizon of my life.

My parents grew up very poor and never accumulated much of value in furniture, art, jewels or what we think of as heirlooms. One day when we were adults, they went out and bought a number of expensive items, brought them home and announced they had purchased respectable heirlooms for us to inherit. Of course, we had no attachment to them and they were the first items put in the estate sale. While I didn’t understand then, I think I might now. They wanted something to pass on but maybe they were sensing the same as I am now. They did not want to simply reduce their lives as they became older. They did not want to stop adding to what they valued and gave them joy – regardless of whether we wanted them or not.

So, I’m adding an additional box just as big as the others and I’m calling it “The New Wing of the Museum of Me.”

 

Fred Smith
Fred Smith is a graduate of Denver University and Harvard Divinity School. He spent several years as teacher and administrator at Charlotte Christian School and The Stony Brook School before co-founding Leadership Network with Bob Buford and serving as President for 12 years. Fred is the Founder of The Gathering, an international association of individuals, families and private foundations giving to Christian ministries. Fred will tell you his true vocation is that of a Sunday School teacher and it is this role for which he would most like to be remembered. Fred and his wife, Carol, have two grown daughters and a son-in-law. They also have three well-loved grandchildren.
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  • Avatar
    Walter Hansen
    Reply

    Thanks, Fred! You struck a responsive chord in us. Darlene and I are exploring the Maritimes: collecting sea shells, paintings by local artists, books by local authors, and photos of new horizons for the new wing of our museum. “Old men ought to be explorers/Here or there does not matter/We must be still and still moving/Into another intensity/For a further union, a deeper communion” T S Eliot, Four Quartets

  • Avatar
    Virlee Stepelton
    Reply

    Good thoughts. I have been in the midst of putting together picture books that will preserve & condense memories for family who in my thoughts might be overwhelmed by the original accumulation of items. My new museum project for them. True Treasures for certain which they might not have time to put together & keep.

    Thanks for your confirming thoughts on this, Fred.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      I hope you keep the picture of the boys on the horse! I would hate to see that one be lost. Thank you, Vee. I hope we’ll see you in September.

  • Avatar
    Gail McGlothin
    Reply

    Thoughtful insight for all of us who are in the same boat. Thanks, Fred.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Gail. Has anyone stolen your “Beto” sign yet? You need to be careful!

  • Avatar
    Jeff Pope
    Reply

    Great message! Suzanne and I, like many in our age group (mid 70s) are going through this right now. This is great insight from Fred. We sometimes feel like we should clean out everything so that someone can just come in and lock the door and our lives will be done. That isn’t how it should be, as this piece shows. Thanks, Fred.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Before you start cleaning out everything I want to take a look – especially at the lake! Fortunately, it is one of my better memories. I appreciate you, Jeff.

  • Avatar
    Karen Hershey
    Reply

    God’s timing is amazing and this brought a smile to my face, Fred. My family and I have been having similar conversations.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Good! We all have to have “that conversation” at some point but we are all too young to clean everything out and just wait.

  • Avatar
    John Huffman
    Reply

    Profound and helpful analysis of where I am right now Fred. Two summers ago I reduced 50 file drawers to 3 of 60 years of personal and professional correspondence after holding and reviewing each item. I also did a wholesale throw away of even more drawers and many shelves of institutional stuff. And now you have helped me feel better about adding a few more sacred items to to this residue realizing that although they will mean little to my children they are fresh indexes that every day at age 78 is as important as those nostalgic days of previous decades. Thanks again Fred!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, John. I cannot even imagine what you have in your archives! You represent a bridge between two generations and I hope you have the appropriate sense of legacy and will not toss out anything historic! But, keep adding!

  • Avatar
    Mac mcinnis
    Reply

    Thanks I need that going thru a lot of the same love you Fred hope to see you soon

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thanks! I appreciate your taking the time to write.

  • Avatar
    Mark Neuenschwander
    Reply

    Oh my, While waiting for Cinda to get home and tackle the closets and garage, I had a minute to catch up on email. I am no longer dreading this afternoon.

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