I wrote last time about the fact that my aunt passed away recently. During the last week, my sister and I (and her incredibly patient and also long-suffering husband, whom we shall henceforth call Superbrit) were tasked with dismantling almost 70 years of life JAMMED into a two bedroom apartment. This required us sojourning to New Westminster – without our kids and sans Dreamy, to perform this daunting task.
Believe it or not, this actually turned out to be an awesome experience. I didn’t think it was going to be. When I walked in and did a brief recon, my heart kind of sank. Truth be told, I’d been looking forward to a couple days of relative silence, but when I saw the accumulation of stuff, I figured I wouldn’t see my family again for about a week. And even though I’m impatient, harried, and not always very nice to them, they seem to like me around, so this was not great news.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a lot of focus, ruthless determination, and a lack of three little kids needing SOMETHING every waking minute, because we actually cleaned out the place within a day and a half. My sister is a tactical GENIUS who managed to figure out how to get rid of the furniture, maintain her real estate business, and pack and load boxes, while being fueled almost exclusively on diet coke (ew). Superbrit is also amazing. He’s the best kind of brother-in-law because he’s smart, shares most of my rabidly conservative views, and his wisdom is rivaled only by his tact (i.e. he’s got opinions that are mostly right, and he doesn’t force them on you). And he’s also able to do a lot of heavy lifting. We all managed to stay very cheerful. And I learned (or relearned) some important truths.
There are two seemingly mutually exclusive sayings in Western Culture- God is in the detail and the devil is in the detail. To be honest, this has had no particular relevance for me to this point, and I imagine not for you either. I took it to mean that if you look at how complex and intricate natural things are, you can’t help but see the hand of God. Unless, of course, you exercise a lot of willpower and mental gymnastics not to (and I can say this with authority because I was there). Similarly, if you omit details, or do sloppy work, you’ll have a devil of a time getting the results you want (see what I did there)?
Like most truths, there’s more to it, but for it to make sense it helps to pull back a bit. To switch gears (but it all relates), I want to briefly talk about Gary, a co-worker from years ago. Gary was one of those people who took his job (safety) VERY seriously. To the point of frustration. I didn’t have a lot of patience for this at the time. He was incredibly (to me) independently wealthy. This consumed him sometimes, as he would get panicked about his investments and constantly worry that he was going to lose everything. He was also a recovering alcoholic, and devoted countless hours encouraging others, extending a hand to them, and saving lives by sharing his experience, strength and hope.
What happened was that Gary committed suicide. I don’t know why, but I heard he died sober. Gary’s funeral was a packed house. Hundreds of people showed up to talk about his heart, his compassion, his generosity with his time, his encouragement. Not one person mentioned his investments, his commitment to safety, or his job performance. The details where God can be seen are in relationships and the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The other details, which plagued Gary (maybe to death) were the things that this world tells us are important like money, status, success, possessions, trips, vacations, luxuries, and other ‘pleasures’. Getting and keeping these details seem to eventually steal our joy no matter how much they entice us to believe otherwise.
So back to my aunt. As I mentioned before, she was difficult, and had a difficult time in our family relating to the rest of us. At the end of a life, you have two piles: All the ‘stuff’ that you’ve accumulated that are essentially junk once you’ve died. Your fancy TV, furniture, knick knacks, car…all those are just piles of stuff that someone may be able to use, but is of no true value and is no legacy after your gone. Perhaps the devil is in all the energy put into the details of accumulation and where that energy is NOT spent by default.
But life is not summed up by the stuff. So many neighbors saw us carting stuff out and mentioned that my aunt was their friend. They had really nice things to say about her. Her church was disappointed that we didn’t have a memorial service yet because a lot of people cared about her. She had boxes of pictures that evidenced that although she never married or had a traditional family, she had a place, and she mattered to a lot of people. I think God is in those details. I’m happy to know that.
And it is a good reminder that every day we choose what we’re investing in. It’s either stuff or relationships, isn’t it? This world is set up so that we are able to sell our time for money. Do we want the luxuries or the relationships? I’ve not seen too many people who successfully do both. Most of us sacrifice time with our families, time with our friends, and building a community, in order to attain more money. Often in the hopes that once we have that ‘foundation’, we can get the relationships back. We’ll do it ‘later’…always later, but for now we just need to get a little more, do a little more…details.
It’s a hard truth to have in my heart, because even as I write this, I’m struggling with the fact that I ‘have’ to do a lot of catch up work, and that means not getting to hang out with the family, or go to Elevated Sportz (i.e. the ninth circle of hell, but it is fellowship with friends). It’s worse to know and not do than be in denial and happily oblivious. But the truth will set you free and all, so I think keeping that in mind will help to make small choices every day to add up. In the end, I hope when my kids go through our stuff, there’s a very small pile of junk to redistribute and the days can be spent talking about memories of the times we had together, the things we laughed about, how we got through challenges together. That would be cool.
Oh, and if you do still print out pictures, please label them. Just sayin’.