Sweet Sorrow

We spend our lives accumulating. We accumulate knowledge. We accumulate memories. We accumulate relationships. We accumulate scars. We accumulate stuff.

This weekend, as sale of my uncle's house is nearly final, my parents and my mom's brothers have been holding a tag sale to get rid of the last few items they've opted not to save. The house has been in my mom's family for a long time. It was my grandparents' first and last house after they moved from their apartment in Brooklyn, around the time my mom was starting high school and her oldest brother, after finishing a tour in the army and helping purchase the residence, got married and found a place of his own. Over fifty years later, and the last of the three siblings is now leaving the house for an apartment of his own.

After mass on Saturday, my mom confessed to me that, as different pieces of furniture, books, ornaments and other items were sold, she would silently apologize to her parents. “Sorry mom. Sorry dad.” She's been bringing a lot of things to our house as it is, more than we have room for, but I can see that, even after all this time, it pains her to part with her parents' things. I hid my own emotions behind sarcasm, as I often do. “It's not like they need them anymore.” “I know, but it's still sad,” she responded. I tried not to think about a day when I'd be going through the same thing.

I briefly knew my maternal grandmother, who passed away while I was still in single digits. I never met the rest of my grandparents. On one episode of Battlestar Galactica, a Cylon muses that “parents must die for children to come into their own.” The Cylons are artificial life forms, initially robotic but later humanoid, that were created by humans and later turned on their creators. The cold statement demonstrates how machines are unable to grasp the complexities of human emotion. It is possible to be both independent and still dedicated to one's parents, long after they've left this world. I see it in the way my dad cares for his father's lot. I see it in the way my mom and her brothers are taking care of their old house. “Honor thy father and mother” is a lifelong commitment for all children.

Some of the things we accumulate over time are junk. Most of them are, actually. Sentimental value trumps monetary value, but there comes a time when you have to “trash the junk and keep the memories”, as my friend Rey once told me. Still, everything from photographs to souvenirs can stimulate old memories buried under new ones.

As children we look toward expansion. A bedroom might give way to a larger bedroom, then an apartment, and a house. When our surroundings fill up, we look for larger surroundings. It's hard for the young mind to conceive of the opposite, when large surroundings prove too much to handle. My uncle saved many of my grandparents' things, and accumulated many of his own. Now he has no choice but to keep only what he can fit in his new apartment, and bid farewell to the rest. My mom told me of a few items he kept, only to change his mind and later bring them back to the house to be sold.

What do we keep? What do we get rid of? These are some of the hardest decisions in life, for both tangible and intangible acquisitions. Soon the weekend and the sale will be over, and only memories will remain....


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