Friday, December 30, 2011
As the New Year Approaches, Begging for Simplicity
A few days ago, our family, led by our teenaged son, began the Great End-of-Year Purge. Already we have boxes of outgrown clothes we will deliver to the Good Will store and bag after bag of garbage. The stuff we have accumulated over the past 15 years of living in our small house is, well I don't want to say shameful, but that is the word that comes to mind. There is stuff we no longer use and stuff that is not usable. Out it goes.
I am not one for making New Year's Resolutions. Perhaps, instead, this year I can make a New Year's Prayer: God, help me find simplicity, help me understand what is essential in my life. I hope and pray, no, I am begging that by decluttering our lives, my family is making room for Someone else.
The writer Rev. Mark Connelly tells us "Simplicity is the origin of freedom." Rev. Connelly is talking about a simplicity of heart and how that can lead us to a richer relationship with the Divine. I also think that externals can reflect one's internal life. And our home has become so crammed with stuff - jammed into closets and onto shelves and various horizontal surfaces - that has been distracting us from our interior lives.
I imagine a lot of families live surrounded by way too much stuff. Over the past few days we have uncovered water-logged children's books, liner notes to a "Rubber Soul" album. Paperwork from a part-time job I held three years ago. Dozens of cassette tapes (no cassette players here), unworn baseball hats and board games missing most of their pieces. Why do we keep plastic containers with no tops and tops with no containers.
And a deeper question: why didn't we care for these objects in the first place?
During this process, we have discovered a few treasures, including photographs from my First Communion, photographs of our adolescents as toddlers at play and newspaper feature stories my husband and I wrote decades ago. ( I found a feature article I'd written from Parris Island about Marines preparing for Operation Desert Storm; in preparing for that trip, I had my first conversation with my husband, a work colleague.)
My conversation with my brother a few days after Christmas is resonating through me as we do this work. At a recent family gathering, I asked R. what he had received for Christmas. He shook his head. "Nothing. Nothing." He had told his wife to buy him nothing.
Any extra penny they had destined for Christmas gifts is heading straight to the Philippines, where his wife's family is recovering from the aftermath of Typhoon Sendong. One sister has lost everything, except her home and her family. "To ask for anything feels almost.... obscene," my brother told me.
I am begging for simplicity, for the understanding that by giving away the stuff we don't need we will have more to give to others: more of what they do need, both spiritually and materially. And we allow the Divine to grace us with what we truly need: a simple home and heart.