A few days ago, I met with Mom and Rachel to hammer out the details of the closing/moving/downsizing of the storage unit. I’ve got 3 more trips between now and the 20th of August, all 3 of which will be marathon 2 day sessions of purging, delivering, selling, and trashing. Then on August 20th, Mom will combine the items from her much smaller storage unit and the remaining items from Dad’s storage unit into a new, smaller, cheaper unit that she and Rachel will preside over.
I think it’s kind of funny that after all these years, Mom’s stuff and Dad’s stuff is going to be in the same place again.
But anyway, I thought now might be a good time to share with the world the things I’ve learned in the past few months (years) of dealing with a 250 square foot storage unit.
Lesson Number One: Don’t Die.
The minute you die, everything you leave behind becomes someone else’s problem. If you have been negligent in your planning, someone else has to arrange your funeral, sell your house, close your accounts, and deal with your belongings. So just don’t die.
On some level, I think this is the plan a lot of people have. It was certainly one of Dad’s plans, the other one being to drive off a cliff in his cherished LeBaron.
Lesson Number Two: Don’t Die Without a Plan
If option one seems unreasonable, then it falls upon you to make arrangements. Figure out what you want done with your worldly belongings, As much as is reasonable, get rid of things while you are still alive.
Dad failed almost entirely on this one. As I’ve written elsewhere, at the time of his death, he had a 3 bedroom apartment with a sun room, living room, dining room and kitchen packed with stuff, mostly books. It wasn’t “Hoarders” bad, in that there was plenty of room to walk about the floors and it wasn’t embarrassing or detrimental to one’s health to be there. If Grandmother Vill-lynn hadn’t bought Dad’s plot in the cemetery years before, and if Dad hadn’t bought life insurance, we would have been even more screwed than we already were.
Lesson Number Three: Don’t rely on your family to know what you want
They say blood is thicker than water, but nothing is thicker than lawyer’s ink. Grief can do horrible things to people, and having a dispassionate outsider with a list of very clear instructions is to everyone’s benefit.
Again, this is one Dad failed on, and before his body was even cold, vultures were circling overhead. I don’t know if real life is ever like this, but I would have loved for me, Rachel, Mom and Grandmother Vill-lynn to have been called into some lawyer’s office for the official reading of the will. Grandmother Vill-lynn could have blustered and cried and threatened all she wanted, but she wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on, and someone in a position of authority could have diplomatically told her to go jump in a lake.
Lesson Number Four: Everything is perishable and temporary.
Everything you have in the physical world will be gone sooner or later. Books will rot. Cars will rust. A house that is passed down from father to son may get struck by lightning and burn to the ground. A treasured set of pearls might fall off and get lost down a storm drain. In the unlikely but possible event that items from your life are preserved over the centuries, all the context that made those items matter will be gone. Consider that even the people you give things to will also die someday. Lastly, if you really own something so remarkable that it deserves to be in a museum, it should probably be there now.
Oh Dad … Dad, Dad, Dad. We have a perhaps unreasonable attachment to books in my family. For one thing, we’re Jews, and we Jews love our books. If a book falls on the ground, we kiss it (or at least I still do). And we’re paranoid about books. When they ban books, they ban people. When they burn books, they burn people. The loss of the knowledge in a book that has been vandalized is something we take extremely seriously.
Dad sometimes spoke of the burning of the Library of Alexandria as if he had actually been there. And after having combed through his extensive collection very thoroughly these last 8 months, I believe firmly that Dad was stock-piling all of these books in fear of another great intellectual purge. The science books, the comprehensive religious texts, the manuals, the histories and anthologies and collected works, all of it was his commitment to never let something like that happen again.
And I believe that the preservation of knowledge is a worthy goal. But in this day and age, I’m not so worried about an Alexandrian-style purge. Everything is so diffuse now. There are stacks of anatomy and chemistry books in every university and college bookstore in the country. And on the occasions that someone somewhere takes it upon themselves to burn books, sales for that very book shoot up elsewhere to compensate. For every one copy of Harry Potter that was hurtled into the flames, 10 more were purchased eagerly by parents and librarians.
So don’t worry about whatever it is you’re preserving. Which brings me to …
Lesson Number Five: Influence is Forever
You could spend thousands of dollars on someone and make no impression, or you could buy someone a cup of coffee and be remembered for the rest of his or her life. It’s all about influence. Can you listen? Can you withhold judgement? Can you say “Thank you” so someone who feels unappreciated? Can you speak hard truths and soften them with love? Then you will have influence on everyone lucky enough to cross your path.
Dad had influence coming out of his ears. From his students at the high school, night school, Hebrew school and summer school, to his peers on the boards he sat on, to his classmates in college who were often 20 or 30 years younger than him, to me and Rachel, Dad’s influence was varied and wide and tremendous. Even Chris, who only met Dad a few times in 1999, still remembers details about him and the conversations they had.
As a physical being, as a discrete person in the history of the world, Dad (and everyone else) was a pebble skipping over the water of a pond. Dad’s pebble sank 3 years ago, but the ripples are still expanding from where the pebble first met the water, and those ripples have not yet even begun to break upon the shore.