There is a walking cane that sits in the corner of one of the rooms in our house; it belonged to my mother. She used it up until her back surgery and recovery last year. After that, she was confined to her wheelchair all of the time, except when Physical Therapy would force her to use her walker. She departed this life in August 2012.
There are certain of mother’s personal items that I have kept and held sacred since even before her death; her cane is one of those items. I placed her cane in that corner in the room once it became clear that she would not be using it again. She noticed I had removed it from her room at the assisted living facility (even though she was declining rapidly), and she asked about it. As I mentioned in a previous post, “she never missed a trick.”
What does one do with all those sacred items? The things that belonged to a departed loved one. There is a tendency to preserve them, as if the loved one might return and call for them. Or, possibly for posterity. One day some ancestor might open a trunk of old things and find a treasure there. Like an old walking cane. Then they might ask, “Who did this belong to?” And the story would then be told.
I had kept my father and mother’s walkers, too. That is, until a friend of mine sent out a Facebook request recently for someone in need of a walker. I offered mother’s walker to my friend, and was informed that it was going to a very special elderly man who meant a great deal to my friend’s family. It was hard to part with, but . . . it felt good to put it to good use, too.
And so, when my in-laws came to visit a few months ago, and my father-in-law discovered he had mistakenly left his cane in Ohio, I was more than happy to offer mother’s cane to him to use while he was here. It was good to see it in use again. A gift from one special person in my life, to another special person. It felt right.
As I write this blog today I am sitting in mother’s favorite blue chair; her wooden cane is sitting beside me, leaning against the left arm of the chair. From where I am sitting I can see a piece of furniture that my father made decades ago, and I can just barely glimpse the Singer sewing machine and cabinet that used to belong to my grandmother (my mother’s mother). A giraffe figurine (that we gave to mother after she moved to Georgia) sits on an end table to my right. And the peace lily that was given to me from Stone Mountain Park when Dad passed away sits in a large pot to my right; it is four years old now. Norman Rockwell decorative plates are perched on the corner shelves in this room; gifts from my in-laws in years gone by.
I am literally surrounded by the memories of my past, by objects that tie me inextricably to former days.
Take a look at the room where you sit as you read this, today. What surrounds you? If you are sitting in a coffee shop or some other public place there may be no memories stirred. But if you are at home, I hope you are in the midst of possessions that you share with the people in your past.
As much as we like to preserve things that hold family history for us (and of course, some things are best preserved) there is great value in continuing to use those things. My father’s tools, my mother’s cooking pans, family furniture, etc. All these things beg for use. They do not want to be part of a museum; they want to continue to be a part of life.
Preserve. “To maintain in safety from injury, peril, or harm; protect.” Or in expanded definitions: “to keep in perfect or unaltered condition; maintain unchanged; keep or maintain intact; to prevent from decaying or spoiling.”
How we wish we could do this – for things, for persons, for places we have loved.
But one day . . . this favorite chair of mother’s in which I sit will simply fall apart. Long before that the blue fabric which covers it will unravel and decay. The wooden frame underneath will weaken. The cushion in the seat will have a permanent depression, and will no longer provide comfort.
The wooden cane which supported our dear mother as she grasped its Fritz design handle will one day split, lose its strength, and no longer be safe to lean upon.
But will nothing remain?
What will remain is the effect of the goodness brought about by the service these items provided; the aura of kindness that was created when someone in need received something to aid in his/her walking; the dust of goodwill that continues to slowly settle over a family when an act of compassion has blessed them; the unmistakeable scent of love itself that penetrates the deepest recesses of the human heart.
The things I am successful at preserving for antiquity will one day collapse and turn to dust. The things I am successful at using in service to others – those things will leave a legacy that defies time.
Like mother’s walking cane, that . . . sometimes sits safe and secure in the corner, but . . . on occasion . . . feels the weight of a new owner. It will, perhaps, support me one day before it is passed on to another. And perhaps another.
But when it has passed its usefulness, and can no longer serve its purpose – the spirit of love and compassion that purposed its use in the first place will live on. And on. And on.