Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Chest of Life

The end of my life is not something I dwell on. As a matter of fact, I look at the end of life as something that is inevitable and I should do some advance planning for, however, there are too many things I still want to do while I'm alive. That's one reason I tend to cringe every time someone says they are putting something on their “bucket list.” Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman launched and popularized the bucket list concept with their movie by the same name. I cringe because the term basically came from the idea of “kicking the bucket.”

Now, as I alluded to in the previous paragraph, I accept the inevitable, but I will not dwell on it. I have adopted the term “Life List.” It just seems a whole lot more positive than making a list of things I have to rush to do before I die. I, long ago, figured out I was going to die with unfinished business. But, why add a lot of stress on myself trying to accomplish what is, in reality, an impossible list to fulfill. Who knows, I may die sooner because of the stress I put on myself trying to complete the list.

I don't think I actually coined the term “life list.” I'm sure someone has thought of it before me. However, I have adopted it as one of my mantras, if you will. I have a life list of places to go, things to experience, old friends to meet up with and some people I'd like to meet (typically not celebrities). And, besides having a list that contracts and expands as my attitudes and whims change, I maintain a “Chest of Life” to remind me of the important events, places and people in my life.

Chest of Life

Exactly what is a Chest of Life? In my case, it's a brass decorator chest. Many years ago I purchased three of these chests to use as two end tables and a coffee table in my living room. Being a very pragmatic individual, I felt these chests could serve two purposes. First, they served as the end tables and coffee table I wanted for my living room. Second, they provided a substantial amount of hidden storage. Two of them stored a variety of stuff I wasn't using and, probably would never use again. It was one of those “out of sight, out of mind” kind of things. The third one, the one I used as my coffee table, I named my Chest of Life.

The Chest of Life was also filled with stuff. But, this stuff was very carefully selected for storage. Each item I placed in the Chest of Life had some significant meaning to me and represented something important in my life. It might have been a person, a place, an event, something to do with my career or even some small thing that reminds me of my parents or some other family member.

So, what kind of items would someone find in my chest? It could be a pink and blue polka dot, clip on bow tie that belonged to my father. He virtually always wore bow ties. It could be a simple Kodak camera that used 126 size film and had a built on flash (from the flashbulb days). It might be some photos representing some of the women in my life dating back to high school and college. It would include a hat given to me by the neighbors across the street from where I lived, celebrated my 17th birthday and could finally get my drivers license. It includes the original first, second and third Amateur Radio Licenses I earned at ages 14 and 15.

There is also a fur hat in the chest that I acquired on the Great Wall of China in 1990. My two U.S. Air Force caps and the small, red beanie with the number “67” in white on the front of the cap. It was the cap I had to wear during my first week on campus at Montclair State College as a freshman member of the Class of '67.

I think you get the point by now. But, there is so much more in that chest. It's actually crammed full. When I open that chest it reminds me how full and rich my life has been. I don't open it very often. That chest is so full of memories, some are sweet, some are bittersweet and some are painful. But, everything in there represents who I am today, how I got here and a life lived – and I like to think of it as a life well lived.

On the occasions I do open it, I'm usually wanting to add something to the collection. I do have to deal with some challenges regarding the chest, though. When I open it and want to add something, I have to determine if what I want to add will fit. If it's small, I can usually find a niche. If it's larger, I may have to remove nearly everything and carefully repack it, hoping I can create more space. This can be tricky. If I can't find a way to recover the necessary space, I may have to make a very difficult decision. What can I remove that isn't as important as the new item(s) I want to add?

Importance of my Chest of Life

When I decided to create my Chest of Life I had a specific idea in mind. I've seen how much stuff people accumulate over a lifetime. It is my contention that the vast majority of people, especially in the western, developed societies are, by nature, pack rats. Our marketing oriented society grows and flourishes by convincing us we need to have the latest, greatest of everything whether it's clothes, cars, jet skis, computers, cell phones, etc. The list of stuff is endless.

I'm guilty as charged. I was single and had 3,000 square feet filled to capacity. I only required one average sized room to live in comfortably. The rest of the space had been used for business and storage. All of a sudden when I no longer had any employees using all the computers, printers, desks, files, resources and so on, everything became surplus “stuff.”

Earlier when I created my Chest of Life I knew a day would come when someone would have to eliminate my footprint on Earth, my pile of stuff. So, the idea was to make it as simple as possible for that someone. In all probability, that someone will be my only child (my son). I had seen what others' offspring had to go through when their parents had died. It is a thankless job and creates a lot of stress. My son should never have to experience that. So, my plan was, and is, to make it as simple, painless and stress free for him as I can. I've done the major downsizing already.

No, I don't see the “end” in sight. I have a long Life List to keep me busy for a long time should I be blessed with continued good health and mobility. But, I just don't need much stuff now. As a matter of fact, I don't need very much of anything to subsist very comfortably.

I'm still carrying too much in My McVansion. However, with my minimal material possessions and very small footprint, I'm in a nice comfort zone for the moment. When the inevitable time arrives, all my son has to do is sell off, give away or eliminate in any way he sees fit, my current McVansion or wherever I'm living. Anything else sitting around for any reason can be donated to Salvation Army or go to the local landfill.

The only thing I'll want him to go through will be my Chest of Life. As he goes through the chest he'll gain more insights into my life. I have no expectations that he'll keep the chest full of stuff, but, perhaps, he'll find a few items that he'll want to keep as his own remembrances of me. Most of the things in that chest will have no importance to him and he can eliminate it by any means he chooses.

We arrive on Earth with nothing but promise, hope and opportunity. During the period we are occupying this speck of rock in the infinity of the universe, we should do everything we can to experience as much as we can, create as many memories as possible and be happy. When it's our time to leave this life and planet, we should leave it with as little footprint as possible.

Actually, my mission in life is simple. It derives from the short period of time I spent as a Boy Scout at about age 12. One of the Scout mottoes is to “leave the campsite in better condition than one found it.” My mission in life is to leave this planet a little better than I found it. Without knowingly doing it, I've already accomplished my mission. However, that doesn't mean I can't do a little more.

Where Is Your Chest of Life?

Do you already have a Chest of Life? If not, I hope I've inspired you to start one. It doesn't have to be a brass decorator chest used as a coffee table. It can be any kind of container you choose. I'm sure you already have a collection of special, meaningful (to you) items you have secreted somewhere. Now, with a new year beginning in just a few days, is a great time to start your chest.

And, while you're at it, what is your mission in life? I hope you have one. The beginning of a new year is a great time to set up your mission statement. But, always remember, the true reason for all our lives is to live free and be happy. EH  

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