Monday, August 17, 2015

People and Other Trash

by H. Linn Murphy

My youngest daughter is finally going through the room she once shared with her sister, shoveling out years of garbage I've asked them to clean countless times. The middle daughter has gotten married and she now and then deigns to come by and rescue an item or two. It is, in our house, as if a giant had an upset stomach and has belched forth a giant, bulky pile of vomit.

The thing is, that now that she is in this mode, (or call it 'they' since middle daughter participates on occasion) J is getting rid of everything. All ties to her past have been cut loose and are now relegated to big black trash bags and boxes in my living room and kitchen and bedroom. As long as it isn't in her new bedroom. Things I'd given her and her sisters are jumbled up with old school papers and broken hair ties and a million other bits of flotsam.

Don't get me wrong. I've begged them to shovel out their room on many occasions. I just want them to be carefully selective. It's been very painful for me to see everything go. Toys that cost us loads of money and were barely played with, she tossed out as if they were bags of bug-infested candy (also in there). I fully expect to see my grandmother's carefully concocted doll house resting atop Crud Mountain in the next day or two. Maybe she's weighing the thought of having it gone, with the fit she thinks I'll pitch.

So this morning I thought about it. Why are they so blithe about dumping everything? Why does it bother me so much that I can't give them the least little thing. They demand all new stuff. Why should their tossing things I've given them bug me so much? Maybe it's because for me, all of this is actually a parable about people.

This is the deal: All of my life I've been the Stuff Adoption person. I don't get new stuff. I've never once had a new car. I've never gone to a store to buy a new couch or any other large item of furniture (although last year my husband bought a new dish washer and stove). I very rarely get to go buy myself new clothes. I adopt other people's stuff, whether it's from my mom or my grandma or my messy best friend. I've examined each thing that people are casually dumping and wondered if it had a place in my house--if its presence would mean that we could have something new without paying anything for it. Does it have value? Or should I let it go into the trash? It offends me to see people toss perfectly good pennies (sometimes in actuality). Save up the pennies and buy something good with them.

It's not like there are tiny trails around my house amidst the tidal waves of rubble--well normally. (This week is an exception, apparently.) I'm not a mental hoarder case. I do toss stuff all the time. I donate items regularly. I've tried to promote a mindset of one thing in, one thing out. But I have also built a home some people call eclectic and cute. And I've done it without breaking the bank. I give things value. I enjoy taking out the old things from my childhood to look at and reminisce over.

I think that the children of today don't know how to assign a value to anything that isn't currently new or in constant use. They want all their music on Pandora. They want all their movies on the Cloud. They get their recipes and decorating ideas from Pinterest. They get their knowledge from Google. They want their relationships on Facebook or Twitter or the next big thing. "Those things will always be there," they say. But I know they won't. Those things will go away and they'll have nothing to show for it all.

I and my husband often chaperone youth dances. The kids these days hardly move. They stand on the dance floor and text each other.  Why can't we have decent face-to-face conversations anymore? And why do they refuse to think that there is anything wrong with insulating themselves with barriers of circuits and plastic and miles?

Not only that, they don't want to have to carry boxes of old things around with them. They, the perennial nomads, flitting from one garishly spangled ride to the next at the fair. What catches their fancy had better be glitzy and at the cutting edge of fashion or they won't offer it a second look.

And that's apparently often how they want their relationships. If you aren't exactly their type, they don't have time for you. They rarely take a moment to dig for the real gold. It's all surface sequins. "What have you done for me today? Nothing much? Bye-bye." "Misunderstanding? Too bad. I don't have time for you." Those learning instances go flying past with the speed of a runaway freight train.

I'm hoping it's not too late. I'm hoping that someday soon she'll wake up and realize that what she's been running over for the last six months wasn't gravel, it was people with very real feelings. Take time to get to know a person. 

When I first started visiting teaching as a young married lady, I didn't really 'get' older ladies. They were just homogenized, two dimensional paper dolls with bluish white hair and a weird split pea soup smell. But then one day I took the time to stop and listen. Whole vistas opened up for me that day. Each woman had stories, many of them avidly interesting. I've known dancers, authors, a woman who someone just gave a child to, lock, stock, and barrel. I've visited climbers and artists and war brides. I've known cowgirls and chefs. 

All of those millions of hours of life to be wadded up and thrown in the trash because they're an old lady paper doll? I don't think so. I want to teach my children that each person matters to Heavenly Father--each one is intrinsically important. If He keeps track of every single sparrow, what then of His beloved children?

What, then, of the works of their hands, of their hours of service and creation? They have value. I feel appreciating a person's value is one lesson Heavenly Father is avid for us to learn.

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