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Tuesday 14 September 2010

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

The first time I came across the practicalities of death, I was a a student nurse and had to sort out, list and sign for the effects of a ninety-year-old gentleman who had died. He had, in his locker, one penny and one plastic comb. They were correctly labelled and signed for, for his relations to collect. It seemed so small a thing, so sad a legacy, in a way, for 90 years. It didn't seem to capture the man himself at all. I felt sad.

Recent events of working through the effects of an elderly relative who died, brought that gentleman to mind. Among the effects of my relative are tea sets and antique spoons, all still in their original wrappings, never used...saved 'for best'. Saved, unused for some fabulous date or some major event that would merit bringing them out. That date, obviously, didn't come in this lifetime and so they remain, still in their perfect boxes, unused and now unwanted by anyone really, but too 'precious' to the person who owned them, to throw them away.

That's the thing about stuff - the stuff we accumulate and value and 'save for best', unaware that every day perhaps we could be enjoying the best. It is a thing, it seems, of a past generation to have things that are beautiful to the eye but have to be put aside because one day someone might be impressed by them or there might be something really worth celebrating....a mythical day that never comes unless we see that it happens everyday.

I know another lady whose house is filled with gorgeous antique furniture surrounded by junk. She grows plants in expensive cups alongside those growing in plastic and lets her grandchildren play in antique chests until they become scuffed and scratched and she doesn't care as long as everyone is happily enjoying that beauty. It used to seem such a waste to have scuff marks on beautifully carved chests until I saw the fun of having children playing amid beautiful objects and using them in ways that their creator undoubtedly intended. Seeing the stuff stored in cabinets and thinking of how people always 'save it for best' it just seems such a pointless waste to postpone enjoying anything that is beautiful. The fact is, I think, things only become beautiful when we love them and enjoy them as they come to us.

It will sound very harsh but clearing the effects of the old man who died with nothing but a plastic comb and one penny, was no different to clearing the effects of someone surrounded by fine bone china, beautiful table cloths (all unopened) etc. etc.. We surround ourselves with stuff that has meaning to us, but, at the end of the day, it's all just stuff....and only has meaning if we lived it and enjoyed other people living it with us. Saving something for best is the silliest idea I ever heard!

Sic transit gloria mundi...unless we put meaning into the glories/loveliness we possess...then they could come down through generations with memories of laughter and fun, scratches, scuff marks and all, rather than being nothing but unwanted museum pieces.

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