America the Surplus
The dust has finally settled enough for me to even think about adding to this blog. After several days of heavy lifting and heavier spending, I woke up early this morning determined to give a perspective (and maybe even some useful tips) to someone less fortunate than I who wants to move back to their home country.
It's Sunday, and just about every piece of paper, cloth, leather, rubber, metal and wood that I own is packed safely into a huge metal box, which as we speak is a port waiting to be lifted into a ship, which will then be transported to Kingston, Jamaica. It's a sobering feeling that 39 years of hard work has produced only enough stuff to fill about 75% of a 20 foot box.
Should I have more stuff? More paper perhaps? Twice as much cloth, or better quality leather? Is life really about accumulating a lot of this stuff, only to have to reduce it radically before moving it in a metal box to someplace else?
Funnily enough, as I was radically reducing the amount of stuff I had in preparation for the move, I realized how wrong I was about so many of the things I had bought. Gadgets that I thought I absolutely neded, and worked hard to acquire, only to never use. Technologies that became outdated and useless. Books that never were read. Objects that are worthless today, that took me several days or weeks of hard labour to obtain.
Let's see... life is about working 2.5 weeks to obtain an object that is worth half that much in 12 month's time, and absolutely nothing in another 12 month's time, which then gets thrown away in a dumpster and put in some landfill or garbage mountain somewhere. Someone tell me if that's worth it....
But of course, hindsight is 20-20, and when I bought these objects I really did believe that I was acting in my own, best self-interest.
Death, of course, puts to bed all these questions. At the end of the day, there is absolutely no way to take any of that stuff, and from what I hear about people who are dying (having never seen one myself,) people don't talk wistfully about the "34 inch LCD television they wish they could have gotten their hands on." Instead they talk about people, I hear, and relationships and love, either enjoyed or lost. It seems that people on their deathbeds become wise all of a sudden...
Maybe for us, there is lesson here to be learned from the dying, and also from stuffing our worldly contents into a 20 foot container. The lesson has to do with how life is lived going forward.
I for one, have become more determined to care less about my physical possessions, and am learning to see them as temporary, useful aids that help life move along a little more easily while I have them. While I was in Jamaica early this year, we had some teenage thieves jump our 15 foot wall to steal some birds and lawn chairs. We are supposing that they are teenaged because they made a return visit, supposedly to check on our ability to replace stolen objects for their shopping pleasure.
By contrast, yesterday, here in Florida, we had the hardest time imaginable getting rid of a 13 or so year-old sofa and loveseat set. In the past year, I had a portend of things to come when I noticed several sofas, recliners and kitchen chairs near the dumpsters in the front of my apartment complex, left there by former residents who had no way to get rid of them... I vowed that I would not create the eyesore that they had by following in their footsteps.
Yet, there I was yesterday, contemplating doing just that.
At the last minute, a friend of a relative who said they wanted both items went AWOL (and still has not been found.) That was on Friday. We had until Sunday night (the last day on my lease) to rid outselves of both items.
Much earlier, my wife made me promise in blood not to bring them with us to Jamaica (too strong a reminder of my previous marriage.) Yesterday morning,we were faced with the ultimate last resorts -- paying someone US$62 to come and take it away to the dump (and paying the "dump fees") or doing what so many other fine residents of Embasy Place Apartments have done.. and leave them at the dumpster.
We did everything we could think of, including calling several charitable organizations who take used furniture for a living to give to those in need, but they were either closed or had a backlog and could not accommodate our urgent need. We placed ads in our apartment building, called friends, used the yellow-pages to call different companies.... probably doing all the things that my fellow ex-tenants had tried to do to get rid of useful, but unwanted furniture.
Luckily, we did not have to join them in breaking the rules of the complex, and were able to find recipients for both items. The only price we had to pay was for our own labor -- lugging the sofa to its new home on the third floor of another building in our complex, and the loveseat to someone's truck in the parking lot.
Whereas in the US, we can barely give used stuff away, in Jamaica which is just 90 minutes flying time away, we have to work VERY hard to keep something as simple as a lawn chair in our possession.
These episodes made me think of a mind-shift I've decided to make in going back to Jamaica, where theft is such a daily fact of life. That is, I've chosen to start seeing my physical objects as just a bunch of stuff that is temporarily in my possession, before it's either thrown into a dumpster, or given away, or exchanged for money, or stolen by someone else for their use.
And maybe, I can be free of all of these objects of wood, leather, paper etc. and realize the fact that I am not the objects in my possession, much in the same way that I am not the loose change in my pocket.