Things of Value

Some things, you just love. When Barb and I were doing more seminars on death and dying, we had an exercise that we did with the participants in which they were asked to list five things in each of the following categories: Activities that they valued; Material possessions they valued; Relationships they valued; and, hmm, I forget the last category. At any rate, I’ve generally had very few material things that I could say that I deeply valued. There was my Apple Newton that I dropped at a hospital. I loved it.

I loved my Saturn SL1 which got 235,000 miles on it before it said goodbye. It didn’t even make it onto vehicle hospice - just died. I’ve loved some things my son got me, if for no other reason than he got them for me. Certainly some things Barb has gotten for me I have deeply cherished. But, few things have I really loved.

But, this past Fall, in celebration of my new job as chaplain at Baylor Jack and Jane Hamilton Heart and Vascular Hospital, Barb and I got a grandfather clock. Now when I was a small child, we would go to visit my Aunt Blanche and Uncle Seldon in New Haven, Connecticut. I was always struck by their grandfather clock. In some odd way, rather than keeping me up through the night, it aided my sleep. I admired the wide swath it’s figure cut in the dining room. It had a commanding presence.

When we saw Benjamin, as we named him, we knew there could be no other clock. I knew him, practically recognized him. For Barb, Benjamin brought remembrances of her dear woodworking father. Both of us were in tears the first tim we heard him chime.

I’m amazed by the solidness and the tenor, the deep earthiness of grandfather clocks. I know that I am anthropomorphizing here, but Benjamin seems to have an almost human quality to him. I am charmed by the idea that part of our life story abides in things: they are sometimes the who in who we are. In some very real sense, the grandfather clock stands watch over all the family events. It is the keeper of the tales, the inner lighthouse. It watches our Christmas dinner, our Valentines, the family engagements (Jennie and Joel!). Occasionally, it even closes its eyes when I snuggle with Barb.

Hopefully, it is gathering all the celebrations of our lives together somewhere in its rich wood. Indeed, it times them, alerting us to the passing of every quarter hour. It reminds us all through the night and all through the day that time is passing. It is a constant in what sometimes seems ever too turbulent. The pain we feel will pass. The love we feel must be savored, for it too will pass.

Every four days or so, it’s weights must be cranked up and reset for it to run another four days. It’s a lot like love in that respect. It demands attention - perhaps the better word is that it pleads for attention.

When we have long past, hopefully one of our kids or grandkids will have an interest in having it. Perhaps they will look at it and be reminded of a birthday many years ago. In truth, these item are the only real material items of value - the ones that carry a little piece of ourselves, a reminder of some day when life was good, when everyone we love was all gathered around, when all were happy. A day that was heaven - as much as can be on earth.

Is it wrong to love things in this way? Last weekend, Justin, Joel, Barb, Jennie and myself went to see the new movie, Roving Mars. It was a spectacular motion picture in the marvelous IMAX format. What was so amazing about the movie was that it humanized these rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Spirit, aptly named, is the rebellious little youngster always getting into trouble. The other, Opportunity, is Miss Perfect. Both of them are extensions of their creators. These creatures become images of their Creators.

Like the rovers, I take comfort in the things that extend the story that I have been part of. Perhaps the same is true for you? Maybe you take comfort in cooking pancakes and sausage when the kids come in from out of town. You drag out that old cast iron skillet, the same one your mom used, and in some way, though she is gone for some time now, she stands close beside you. She puts her hand on your shoulder and tells you, All is well. Moments later, as sleepy eyed grandkids make their way into the dining room, the grandfather clock, Benjamin, chimes eight times, and you know the day has begun and that your mom is right.

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