I have it on good authority (Ecclesiastes 5:15) that I arrived at Jamestown’s Jones Memorial Hospital naked and without even a copy of Aquinas or Augustine. I expect to depart better dressed than that but without Cardinal Newman bound in leather or even a book of coupons for a church lottery. I'm trying now to give away the last of my books, including such things as sturdy Library of America editions of five Faulkner novels, four American poetry collections, even couple of Emerson plus Grant's dandy autobiography.
When I told Sister Bernard Lynch, O.P., about the vigorous downsizing in progress here at the home of my daughter and son-in-law, Drs. Marie and Mark Veldman, she gave downsizing her blessing. It keeps us on our toes, she said, something those of us with gout cannot deny.
She spoke also about the value of disposing of things. Jesus is good at this. Nowhere in scripture is Jesus carrying a book bag, steadying a Dell on his lap or locking a suitcase. The man who could have everything paid no excess baggage fees.
Sally and I sold our house in Orlando a few years ago, but we had to give away the memories. Memories that looked like pictures, or clocks, books. or dishes, were swept away in sunny yard sales and too often in trash collection trucks, the storage of last resort.
Then we moved into a new century and a new address, a cheerful condo in suburban Chicago. Even the neighbors were cheerful.
We were proudly downsized when we left Orlando. Gone were drawers full of anonymous keys, forgotten nails and toys for the cat. Gone were boots stored for the next hurricane, which never came, and gone were the mouldy batteries from the same storeroom, chisel-resistant dried-out shoe polish, belts too long or too short, a cuffless suit from World War II. Any smugness we felt came from knowing we had filled our drawers, cabinets and crawl spaces before the hoarders got started.
My grandpa filled cabinets with his collected treasures, Not many collectors could show off a dry coconut brought back to Jamestown after one of the winters he operated a horse car in Palm Beach. He worked at the original Breakers hotel, one of Henry Flagler’s places. It burned down in 1903, a year before my mom was born.
My dad was a collector, too. He filled our dining room with a pipe organ he bought from a church. Now I have my own collections, but the coconuts and pipe organs stop here. So do the memories of William Sheldon Olmstead, horse car driver in Palm Beach and streetcar motorman in Jamestown, enthusiastic reader of newspapers wherever he was. I was allowed to look at them, but I had to leave no creases, tears or smudges.
Now my own collections must expire, the books and the trinkets displayed in my own cabinet. My long experience with the Catholic Church prepares my head to celebrate my multiple system atrophy, to decorate it and absorb its gifts of dizziness, aches and tumbles. My long experience with the Episcopal Church reminds me that the celebration should be dignified.
I don’t think one answer satisfies all. The Eternal allows me three children and six grandchildren, and each one is unique. Talents in music, games, math and politics are not the same. Their purpose and character and good looks are closer to the same.
My own purpose in trying to unload things and memories of things begins in the most ordinary of ways. We’re moving from a big house to a more modest one. I am moving in expectation of simpler management of my life and time to explore some of the hints of what looks like the impossible, a timeless future. I’m embarrassed by the appearance of name-dropping, but the son of God is a mentor.