IT’S JUST STUFF


For many years, my closet held a dirty little secret. Behind my boots, wedged between the wall and some outmoded purses, lay two beautiful Chinese scrolls that belonged to my parents. They once hung elegantly in our dining room, whispering of orange blossoms in foreign tongues. But in my home, they sat collecting dust.

I expect the distraught phone call from my father any minute now.
As far as I can remember, the woeful tale of the Chinese scrolls goes something like this: After my mother died, I claimed them for my own but had no clue how to refurbish their frayed edges. Track down the original artist? Unearth a craftsman in Chinatown. Ack! The scrolls were rapidly eclipsed by the influx of other items from Mom’s house.  I stuffed them into my closest where they seemed to be gradually decomposing –their tattered edges taunting me daily.  Instead of orange blossoms, the scrolls now hissed, “You are a pitiful steward of family heirlooms. Shame!” Luckily, my mother had a different mantra:
“It’s just stuff.” 
If one of Mom’s friends was moving, she was among the first to help with packing.  That’s when she would go into purging overdrive, convincing her friends to part with the stack of mismatched sheets, the incomplete board games, and old birthday cards. The woman was relentless. Mom once told her friends’ Depression-era mother that she was delivering boxes of old towels to Goodwill. In fact, those boxes went straight to the garbage. It might have been cruel, but Mom generally believed that becoming too attached to objects, too obsessed with maintaining things, could hold a person back. “For Godsakes, it’s just stuff!” she said to me, when I balked at throwing out a pair of torn leggings.
 
Granted, I know the Chinese scrolls were more valuable and special than torn leggings, but the sentiment was there. Oddly enough, the mantra “it’s just stuff“ helped me solve the mystery of the Chinese scrolls with surgical precision. 

(a) After years of living here,  I noticed a large empty wall in my apartment;

 Then, I remembered the scrolls wasting away in the closet like Harry Potter at the Dursleys. I took a deep breath, repeated, “It’s just stuff” to myself three times, and;
(c)    I showed the scrolls to a designer friend of mine. I pretended I didn’t hear her gasp with disgust, before she told me simply: Get them framed. 
And that’s what I did. Now my scrolls are something new: Two smartly framed pictures with a beautiful poem in Chinese calligraphy. I shyly showed them to my brother, who wrote a note more beautiful than any poem:
“Sometimes even your powerful memory is overwhelmed by how hard you are on yourself. Those scrolls have had tears in them for years! I remember when mom had them there was one with the bottom ripping off, one with a hole in it and the wooden weights at the bottom were both tearing the paper. They are over thirty-years old and have not been re-matted or anything in all that time. So it looks like you really saved them.”
Word to the wise: It’s just stuff.
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