The Museum of Me
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.”