The Value Of “Stuff”

I find it most difficult to find the time to write in the moments of my life when writing can and should be my most important tool to self salvation.  The last four days have felt like four years, and to be honest, it’s very possible the emotions I went through during these past four days have managed to shave four years off of my life.  That being said, knowing I can come here today with positive things to say only goes to show I have once again weathered a storm and survived to tell the tale.  Let’s go back.

Before getting into the details of my week, I want to revisit a topic I may have covered here before.  Stuff.  Yes, stuff.  We all have stuff and some of us have more than others.  We, as a people, primarily in the more modern parts of the world, find value in stuff and more importantly place a value on all that stuff which translates into a value on our heads.  For example, cars tend to be the stuff many of us envy.  Those who drive expensive cars are envied by those who don’t.  Different types of cars send different kinds of messages, but all tend to create a jealousy among those who want the stuff others have.  A luxury car suggests wealth and power, while a sports car suggests virility.  The man who drives a luxury auto probably has a wife who wears expensive jewelry and children who attend boarding school.  A man who drives a sports car is strong and sexual and probably sleeps with a lot of women.  For one reason or another we all tend to at times fall into the trap of “stuff envy.”  While I do my best not to worry myself too much over what others have, I certainly have had my moments of jealousy as a child over not having the same great toys my friends may have had.  While I do my best to avoid that materialistic mentality, we live in a society where more is always better.  Bigger, better, faster, stronger, whatever, we always want more of what we don’t have.  That is until you find reasons more important to live than to simply have stuff.

Like I said, I try my best not to worry too much about the stuff I do or don’t have.  My trip to Spain has started to show me just how little “stuff” I will really need.  As I look around my apartment I see the things that at one time I felt I could not live without.  I have a TV, several computers, a mountain of unread books, and my cherished collection of DVD’s.  On my laptop alone I have a music collection of over 6000 songs that I have done everything possible to maintain over the years, constantly fearing it will somehow be erased and my life will fall apart.  Let’s take a look at that.

Yes, I spent a lot of time amassing this library of music.  It features many of my favorite songs, but it also features plenty of songs that I simply downloaded on a whim.  And what would happen if someday this library was abolished?  What would happen to me if I could not access any Dave Matthews song I wanted at the click of a mouse?  Would I sink into  deep depression?  Would I somehow fail as a human and not be able to go on?  I imagine I would be a little disappointed to see all that music gone, but when I think about how much I listen to on a day to day basis, would it really be that tragic if it went away?  I used to think I could not live without my iPod.  Now, I only use it twice a week at the gym while it sits and collects dust the rest of the week.  I like having the option to watch Beverly Hills Cop II whenever the notion strikes me, but how many times can I watch the same movie and still laugh at the jokes.  I love my books, but I have huge doubts I will ever get to read the entire library I have sitting in my second bedroom.  Yes, there are plenty I intent to read, but I may never get to them all.  What would happen if I gave them all away?

Yes, I have some “stuff” that I feel may be a necessity.  I own furniture, a bed, and I eat at a table, most nights.  None of this stuff is fancy nor is any of it irreplaceable.  Sure, some days I think it would be nice to own nicer furniture or maybe a television from this decade (*author’s note: I cancelled cable, so while I have a TV, it is really a useless box that simply takes up space.) but when I really think about it and really ask myself if any of it would bring me happiness, my answer is no.  When I go to Spain, I am taking the bare minimum of stuff.  I will bring enough clothes to last me a week or so (there are washing machines where I am staying) my computer and telephone, as they are my means of communicating back home should I need to, some money, and a book.  OK probably a notebook too.  I plan on living for an entire month with almost none of my usual stuff.  Somehow I will survive.  When I return, I imagine I will have a new perspective on all the stuff and what it all really means to me.  Now, onto my bad week.

If you’ve gotten this far, I am sure you want to know how all of this talk of stuff relates to the events of my week.  Let me tell you.  On Tuesday, my mother came to see me at work.  She rarely appears at my job and it is even rarer of her to visit during lunch hour.  I knew something was wrong.  Let’s cut to the chase, you don’t need to know every second that passed that afternoon.  She told me, after going to the doctor, that a biopsy on a mark on her leg revealed that she had skin cancer.  This is not news you want to receive while at work.  This is not news you want to receive anywhere.  I suspected she was going to say something like this, so I was not completely taken aback, and I managed to maintain my composure while we rode to my sister’s house to break the news to her.  Her reaction was not much different from my own, and I think this was simply because it would serve no purpose to get overly emotional in front of my mom who was already worried enough.  After talking with my sister, my mother and I went to dinner where I did my best to reassure her all would be fine and we could not jump to any conclusions before she saw the doctor on Friday.  I hugged her goodbye that night and once again told her there was no reason to worry just yet.  That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday, I was alone with my thoughts for too long.  I did my best not to think about anything.  Anything being all kinds of possible outcomes of this situation.  Unable to follow my own advice, I worried about things that I didn’t yet need to be worrying about.  I was confused, angry, and most importantly, I was scared.  I am an adult and at some point in my adult life I started to accept that life is not infinite and we will all pass on at some point.  The hardest truth to accept is that your parents may go before you.  I understand that I will have to say goodbye to my mother someday, but I was not ready on Tuesday of this past week to hear that she could potentially be facing a fight for her life.  My mother is strong.  She has fought through things throughout her entire life.  I was not about to allow the possibility of cancer to bring her down.

I saw her again on Thursday.  I went to her condo, we got lunch, and I spent the afternoon with her.  We talked and laughed and for the first time she asked me a lot of questions about what I planned on doing while in Spain.  It felt good to talk and more importantly to not be thinking about the negative.  I hugged her again before I left and told her I wanted to know what she found out the next morning from the doctor.  I went home and paced around my apartment for a few hours before going to bed.  The next morning, I waited very impatiently by my phone.  When my phone finally rang, I was relieved to hear a calm voice on the other end of the line.  She had gone to the doctor and discussed the situation and she was scheduled to have surgery.  Following the surgery she should be fine.  She’ll have to go for check ups routinely, but other than that, she should be in the clear.  Obviously she still needs to have the surgery, but I finally breathed a sigh of relief yesterday upon hearing the good news.  In the time between learning the situation and her visiting the doctor, I learned the true value of our “stuff” and what is really important in our lives.  I would have burned everything I owned if it meant giving my mother a clean bill of health.  I spent a few thousand dollars on this trip to Spain.  It would have been passed over if it meant spending time with her.  I would have sacrificed my job, my apartment, whatever just to see that she was OK.  I know things like this scare us and no one can ever be prepared for news like this, but I will never again take for granted the time I have with my mother or my siblings.  It shouldn’t take something like this to bring us together but I am thankful for the wake up call.  She is not entirely out of the woods yet, but at least now I know to cherish the time we still have together.

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~ by James on September 20, 2014.

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