I spent my holiday vacation throwing stuff out: bags and bags of stuff once valued but now regarded as clutter. In sorting through all that stuff, I came across a picture of Sam*. I threw the photo away and then cried. You see, Sam recently passed away. I’ve been trying to write this post for three weeks, but it just wouldn’t come together. Maybe it still hasn’t, but here’s what I’m learning.
I barely knew Sam, but he really got to me: I fell for Sam the day I met him (even if he was a widower well into his 90s). Sam was an honest-to-goodness WWII hero who confided to me that he’d never told his full story to anyone before. Sadly, right before the story was to go to print, he asked that it be edited because of the nightmares that had started up again. FYI, Sam’s story deserves and will (soon) get its own post. But for now, let me just say that as a child, Sam was underestimated and under-valued. His teacher literally laughed him right out of the sixth grade because he stuttered. Yeah, and the Germans way underestimated him too! Sam became a successful husband, father, and businessman, but the Sam I met had outlived his spouse, most of his friends, and many of the people who had ever known him. His children adored him and took great care of him, but much of Sam’s time was spent alone with his memories – both the good ones and the nightmarish ones.
Anyway, lately I’ve been kicking myself for throwing out his photo. In my defense, I only had the photo for an article I was writing for a client. But, I still regret it. I feel as though discarding that photo is symbolic – that in the grand scheme of life, all of us are eventually relegated to “throw-away” people – at least in the world’s estimation.
To morph a concept borrowed from Tom Peters, to the world, we’re all only as good as our next gig. When age, health, or circumstances limit what we have to offer to our organizations or families or communities, we become little more than clutter, just more stuff to be cleared out. Oh, that isn’t ever officially articulated, but it is demonstrated. Often we simply size someone up as being beneath our regard and move on.
Our society values new and young and shiny, so the older people get, the more likely they are to be discounted. Personally, I prefer older people. The older people are, the more stories they have, and I love hearing their stories. Check out this fabulous series of photos (that reinforce the point I’m trying to make) entitled Reflections by photographer Tom Hussey. When I look at these photos, I hear that whisper from the movie Dead Poets Society, the one warning us all to carpe diem! This life, and more specifically the people we go through life with, are precious and fragile.
At some point someone’s going to throw out all the photos of me too.
My five boys:
Front: Gunter, Axel, Sydney
Back: Duane, Carl
It’s not likely any of my four gnome children will want to save them! But I hope that after I’m gone, my life will have had an impact on someone’s eternal soul; otherwise, I would consider my existence to have been little more than cosmic clutter. I always liked this poem by CT Studd:
Only one life twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.
Sam, your life mattered matters to me, and your passing has not gone unnoticed or ungrieved.
*Name changed out of respect for my friend’s privacy.