This week at work the department I work in moved to a new building. It’s exciting and fun, and we’re all enjoying the settling in process. But moving can be a challenge, especially when people are moving from a place they’ve worked everyday for decades. While packing, I realized how much “stuff” exists in our department. Some necessary, some not. Some was recycled with little thought, some was sentimental and hard to part with. We all coped differently.
I don’t typically have a problem getting rid of things. The occasional item is hard to let go of, of course, but overall I like a few carefully curated things than an abundance of objects I don’t feel super attached to. However, all this moving and tossing and purging papers and files and general stuff reminded me of a situation from a few years ago. I pulled out an old journal entry from December of 2015, and it reminded me that stuff is just stuff, but it can be important. So tonight I thought I’d share that journal entry with you.
December 10, 2015
Earlier this week we got some sad news. My husband's Grandpa’s house caught fire, and was burned to the ground. Grandpa has lived in that house since he and Grandma were newly married. They built it, and that is where the family grew. Grandma passed years ago, but the house remains the same.
Thank goodness no one was home, and no one was hurt. But everything else is gone, including any heirlooms and physical memories of Grandma. But no one was hurt. It's just stuff.
As I said this to a coworker, a colleague who works in insurance said, "Yeah, it's just stuff. But that's something people only say when the stuff is gone."
His words comforted me. Of course I felt immensely thankful that everyone was safe. But I never had the chance to meet this Grandma, as she died when my husband was very young. He doesn't remember much about his Grandma, and I thought perhaps I would get to know her through her old things someday. Together, through old photos and silverware and trinkets that must have been important, we could rebuild his memory of her and I could get to know her. But her things are gone.
This man was right. I would never say that the many momentos lost to the flames were "just stuff" if it weren't destroyed. His simple phrase hit home because it illustrated a deeper insight into material possessions that I had been grappling with since hearing the news of the fire. Yes, it was just stuff. But stuff can be important, and that's okay.
I am sad at the loss of so many family heirlooms. My husband is handling it all very well, but I know that if the roles were reversed I'd be having a much harder time. I can't imagine losing the many paintings and poems created by my great grandmother that are housed at my grandmother’s home. I can't imagine never having the chance to sort through the piles of old family photo albums sitting on my Grandma's shelves. I can't imagine losing her jewelry that will always remind me of her, or the knitted blankets she has made that lie across the sofa, or the antique tea cups she collects.
All these things are just stuff, and I would throw every last bit of it into the ocean if it meant keeping my Grandma safe from harm. However, it means so much more to me than just an object. It's a memory of the hours I've spent with my Grandma, the person I admire most in this world. It's a feeling of warmth and joy inspired by so many good times. It's just stuff, but it has played a role in how I have experienced my time with Grandma.
We’re all overwhelmingly grateful Grandpa is okay, but we mourn the loss of the "stuff" in the fire. It's just stuff, but it's important, and that's okay.