Clearing one’s house

The Okanagan Centre community hall has undergone some extensive renovations this winter. One by-product was two large piles of junk on the lawn outside.

The Okanagan Centre community hall has undergone some extensive renovations this winter. One by-product was two large piles of junk on the lawn outside.

One pile was construction debris. The other was more interesting. It included the remains of several Halloween parties, years ago. A six-foot papier-mâché Egyptian mummy swathed in bandages, for example. And an eight-legged four-foot black spider. A ceramic skull.

To say nothing of the limbs of several female mannequins, probably used for fashion displays at some time in the forgotten past. Even one quite appealing torso.

Richard Gibbons and I took a trailer load to the Kelowna dump. We hoped no one was watching as we hurled dismembered female body parts into a gigantic dumpster for eventual crushing and burying.

The Hall, I guess, has been going through the same process many of us do in our lives. We decide it’s time for some renovations. Which may require getting rid of things we’ve had hanging around too long.

When we’re young, most of us focus our energies on Acquisition. We accumulate possessions. We move to bigger premises to accommodate the children, the cars, the television sets, the books, the animals, the souvenirs…

Later in life, we move into a stage of Divestment. Sometimes it’s forced upon us, as we leave the family home for space in a seniors’ complex. Sometimes it’s voluntary, as we look around the burdened shelves, the overflowing storage closets, the cluttered workshops…

And we ask, “Why am I keeping all this… this STUFF?”

If you’re old enough to remember comedian George Carlin’s hilarious monologue about “Stuff” back in 1986, you’ve probably already started divesting yourself of “Stuff.”

You start deciding what’s worth keeping, and what’s not.

Joan started spring cleaning early this winter. I now have several boxes of clothing, shoes, toys, and other stuff to take to the local Thrift Shop.

I’ve been doing my own housecleaning. Over the last decade or so, I’ve given away three cars, two motorcycles, and a boat. I acquired them all at times when I thought, “I could do something with that!” I could repair it, rebuild it, restore it to its former glory. Eventually I realized that I wasn’t going to do it, after all. I no longer had the time, the energy – or the money — to “do something with that.”

Divestment isn’t just about things, though. When I was younger, I had very clear ideas about right and wrong. I wasn’t always clear about why. And I didn’t always do what I knew I should. But I knew which was which, absolutely.

I’m not so sure any more. Right and wrong tend to dissolve into each other, like wet watercolours. What’s right for me may be wrong for someone else. An action that seems right at the time turns out spread ripples of wrong. Meanwhile, an injustice, a tragedy, starts wheels turning that eventually benefit everyone.

I wish I knew, sometimes, if I’m still trying to do something with the convictions I’ve carried with me for so many years. Or if I’m taking them to the dump.

Jim Taylor welcomes comments. Send e-mails to rewrite@shaw.ca