I have the latch to my family’s storage building in the backyard that Daddy thought was going to keep me out when I was little. I figured out how to work it the day after he put it on the door. When they moved I took off that latch and kept it as a symbol of my independence. I have a silly souvenir from the trip my girls and I took to San Francisco when Emily was about 2 months pregnant and didn’t want to do anything fun lest she hurt the baby, who was at that time was the size of a grain of rice, as she endlessly whined. Elizabeth and I got so tired of listening to her we came close to throwing her off the Golden Gate bridge. But we still had so much fun that just looking at it makes me feel good.
I keep things like this in a special box, conveniently gathered so that when I die my girls can throw the whole collection out before my body goes cold. They mean absolutely nothing to anyone but me.
And last week I found a spoon.
It was in the dirt. Half-buried years ago. Left in the bushes until a work day at church last week sent me raking leaves from the bushes that hadn’t been tended for years. I was so excited I messaged Mary Henderson on Facebook. I knew she would remember my obsession with finding a spoon when we took her on a mission trip to clean up after Hurricane Ike.
To me, above anything you can possess, spoons are the basis of civilization. Spoons were probably the first tool invented, or maybe second--after the spear. Without a spoon we would be left to eat with our hands. Without a spoon there would be no shovel, no digging into the earth, no planting. For soup or cereal, it’s a must.
So, where do the spoons go when you have a natural disaster?-- when wind and ocean invade your home and throw everything into a gigantic Cuisinart then empty the pieces that are left into a big pile in the road? It’s the one possession every house is guaranteed to have inside. Where do they go?It was the one thing I always l looked for. I looked for it after Katrina. I looked for a spoon after a tornado hit Kevin Henry’s house and ripped off the roof and one side of his house. I looked for spoons after Hurricane Ike swept the Galveston beach and filled cars with sand. I looked for spoons while picking up trash after a tornado hit Forney a couple of years ago. It became a sort of quest I couldn’t let go of.
Where were the spoons? Everywhere you looked there were dolls, books, furniture, clothes, Christmas decorations pulled out of storage by the wind, ribbons of cassette tapes, glass shards and unidentifiable twisted bits of metal. But I never found a single spoon.Folks, doesn’t it seem that when entire households get upended and emptied out, you just gotta expect some spoons to be left behind?
Then there was the fork I found when unloading a delivery of mattresses at the New Orleans volunteer village. The mattresses stated clearly that they were made by inmates at a Louisiana prison. The fork was bent over and sharpened and it fascinated me. When I showed it to a pastor he told me “What you’ve got there is a shiv.” He had worked in prison ministry and knew. The inmates steal a fork from the kitchen, then take a rock and beat it into the shape they want. It’s a weapon. I brought it home with me because how many chances will I ever get to see another shiv?
Finally, there is the wire bored into a twig to make a stylus. I brought this home from my first mission trip to Guatemala. We spent a week laying brick to build a house for a woman named Berta. When we finished, the mason in charge made a door plate in wet concrete and fashioned the tool we used to write our names in the concrete.
Sometimes I think of them as a placesetting at the table ... even though I know they are just pieces of trash. No value to you. Great value to me.
You have to be careful with the things you attach to your heart. You shouldn’t let the possessions possess you. Put another way, if you can be happy with very little, you will always be happy. If all it takes to make me feel good is three pieces of trash, I’m in good shape.
We raised our kids in a small house. Always wishing for “just 12 inches more” in each room of the house. So when we had the chance to build a new house and build it any way we wanted, I made sure we had big rooms. I got my 12 inches. But while I was at it, I got the tall ceilings, the second floor, the big kitchen, and the big bedroom. Our first night in that house all I could think of was the house we built for Berta in Guatemala. I told Beaven, “This bedroom is bigger than Berta’s whole house.” And I was never comfortable there.The house was simply too big. The bathrooms were drafty because the ceiling was too high and the electricity bill became an albatross hung around our necks. We lasted two years, sold it and moved to our little cabin in the woods.
I found a great trick for people who want to live small but also don’t want to part with a lot of their stuff. Get a storage building bigger than your house. That’s what we did. Then you can fill it with all the family heirlooms that your kids don’t want but you can’t in good conscious allow to leave the family: antique tables, bookcases, letters, photos, stuff like my little keepsakes box. I don’t have to get rid of it, but I also don’t have to cool it in the summer or heat it in winter. It doesn’t matter how much dust it gathers and you don’t have to trip over it.
With all this stuff out of the way we basically live in three rooms: bedroom, kitchen and living room. And you wouldn’t believe how little room you need in a closet when you have basically three outfits: one for working outside, one for the movies and one for church.Lately, I’ve been sleeping outside in a tent. It’s like a cocoon. There’s room for a sleeping bag and a chair. I made a “chandelier” of three flashlights I hang from the ceiling. It gives me enough light to read with. I don’t need anything else. Prayer comes naturally in a place like this. Our pastor once said, “When you give it all up for God, what do you end up with? God.”
I already possess everything I need. It’s enough.