Some years ago I took my Mum to Townsville, far north Queensland. She’d had some surgery that hadn’t gone well. I was working three part time jobs being as full time work was unavailable. It was the middle of winter and some recuperation in the tropics seemed like a good idea for us both – I wanted my Dad to go with us, but he wouldn’t be parted from home. Off we went and we had the best time. We really enjoyed having a decent cappuccino – Wanganui being something of a coffee desert in those days. I decided to buy a cappuccino machine – and snapped the dividers out of the polystyrene box the machine came in to act as a chillybin (esky for the full Australiana) when we drove up to Cairns. We made very full use of the box – it was absolutely brilliant for keeping food and drinks cool. When it came time to come home there was no room in our suitcases to bring the box home – and so I went out to the dumpster to toss the box away. The nearer I got to the departure point, the worse I felt. I don’t think I’ve ever felt such complete guilt as I consigned our helpful friend to the trash. I went back to our rooms and I told Mum about what a complete fool I felt about feeling guilty about discarding the box. She felt the same – but there was no way we could bring the box back with us. Years later I still feel bad. And slightly silly about being emotionally attached to polystyrene packaging, repurposed as a chillybin.
Lately I’ve had cause to work through a lot of my possessions from my past. They’re just things – inanimate things – usually man-made, but not exclusively. Some things I’ve kept, some things I’ve sold, some things I’ve given away, and some things I’ve dumped. At times it’s been heart wrenchingly traumatic; other times it’s been a ‘oh no, just no, what were you thinking?’ moment. I have been wondering why some things are so hard to deal with. My niece, Catherine, said, ‘The trouble with all your stuff is, every thing has got a story. There’s nothing here that doesn’t have a story to go with it.”
To which my sister, Gillian, replied, ‘Well, yes. That’s why it’s here. If it didn’t have a story we wouldn’t bother with it.’
When I used to leave Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport, there was a sign that spanned the highway – ‘Every story has a beginning, a middle, and a beginning’. It was an ad for something – I have no idea what. But I loved the idea then, and now. When things arrive in my hand it’s rarely the beginning of the story. Rather it is part of the middle of a story. And the story continues once the thing leaves my hand. Objects don’t attain their own energy or their own personality – that’s what we/I ascribe to them – it’s their role in our stories that makes them hard to part with. What I’m realising is that the story doesn’t end when the item comes to me, and really, it’s better if I keep the story going by keeping the item moving. I’m feeling better about it that way.