This note is in response and support of Ann Knox’s comments about trying to interest family and friends in inheriting china, furniture, keepsakes which she held very dearly but had no room for in her downsizing move from home to condominium. The response? No one was really interested, or didn’t have the room, or perhaps, couldn’t see the same value in these things as Ann does. I share her pain, confusion, wonder because I experienced the same thing after moving to Korea. More recently, another GPPC friend posted a New York Times article about “Aging parents with lots of stuff, and children who don’t want it.” So I want to share my thoughts (dare I say wisdom?) about the importance of “things” and how they can become links to the sacred for us.
My grandmother, Ruth Welch Moor, was the only grandparent I ever knew. My mother’s mother, she lived alone in her home 25 miles away from us in Lake Charles, LA. Her husband and my father’s parents all died before I was born. So visiting her often was very important, and from an early age I remember going to her big wooden house in Welch, Louisiana, usually on Saturday, and often for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Cookies were always under the kitchen counter in a wide-mouthed glass jar, apple juice in the Hotpoint refrigerator, and an empty lot behind her house ripe for exploration, with 2 giant fig trees for climbing and eating.
Inside in her bedroom was a small oak secretary with paper and crayons for drawing. I remember opening the fold down desk top, searching for crayons and who-knows-what other treasures that seemed to call that place home: stamps, pins, jewelry, newspaper articles, and objects I had no idea what purpose they served. Also in that bedroom was an oak chest of drawers and a rocker. I can remember my grandmother standing at that dresser at night, unpinning her bun of hair gathered on the back of her head, then combing it out until it reached her hips: pure white, thin, amazing to me. The rocker I would sit in alone and vigorously rock back and forth until Grandma would caution me about scooting across the floor and damaging something. But she always said it with a knowing wink in her eye.
When I moved to Korea in 2006, I shoved everything into a 12 X 12 U-Haul storage bin on Lombardy Avenue, and for the next 10 years would occasionally check on it during my visits to Richmond. But in 2015 I came to Richmond with a mission: clean out that storage unit and ship 4 very important memories to Korea. And that is what I did. I already knew my family didn’t want or didn’t have room for any of these items, and I don’t blame them for that—their memories were not tied to these “things” like mine were (are). But I also was not willing to let them go to Goodwill or the dump, or to strangers. No, these “things” are not simply connections to the past, but they also give me moorings now. Every time I look at them they whisper to me stories of love, of belonging, of permanence, and the power of place. Not only do they remind me of who I was, but of who I am.
I teach a church history class to university students every spring, using the text: The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez. Gonzales talks about the iconoclast and iconodule controversies that occupied the church in the 7-8th centuries. Iconoclasts wanted all symbols, images, relics removed from churches because they feared (with some accuracy) that people would worship the objects rather than excite the faith which the object represented. The iconodules countered that these objects helped people experience a closeness to an infinite, invisible God that enriched their worship and strengthened their faith. These issues have continued to be debated in the Church, and occurred again in the Reformation era. The same debate occurs when discussing the role of pilgrimage in Christian faith. Those who favor pilgrimage see it as a way of experiencing holiness, and thus exciting their faith, through visiting what may seem to us quite ordinary places. John Chrysostom noted, “…only seeing those places…mere lifeless spots, we often transport our minds thither, and imagine their virtues, and are excited by it, and become more zealous.” And Jerome suggested that merely seeing Judaea with our own eyes will helps us “gaze more clearly on holy Scripture.”
Are my furniture pieces holy relics? Is my grandmother’s house holy ground? No, not holy in the sense that they have magical powers of their own which cause me to bow down and worship them. But they do have power, power to inspire me to think about people and places that were holy (using the Hebrew meaning of qodesh, holy as “set apart,” unique, sacred). When I see these things I am transported in my mind back to my grandmother’s house, but more than that physical place, I remember her, and her influence on my life. She is a model of unconditional love for me, and when I see her picture or touch those “things” I am inspired to be a better person, to live more the way she did. The power those things have to create a holy space within me and a holy desire to be and do better are what makes them holy, and thus special for me.
In her Facebook post about moving, Ann and a friend comment:
Ann: I try to remember the memories are what I can take with me. I just can’t take all of the physical representations of those memories.