From Treasure to Trash, or What Was, “Was”
Posted on 28 September 2020, 8:38
It seems somewhat selfish to die and leave one’s worthless personal possessions for someone else to sort out and discard. Thus, I took advantage of the pandemic lockdown to rummage through memorabilia stashed in nine large boxes in the closet of a spare bedroom with the objective of trashing most of it so that my wife Gina would not be burdened with it all after I die. I failed badly, as, after many hours of sorting, selecting and sifting, I have eight boxes remaining. Many of those hours were spent reading, remembering, reminiscing and reflecting. Disposing of a lifetime of keepsakes is a challenging task.
Included in those nine boxes were hundreds of family photos going back to the early 1900s, elementary school class pictures, yearbooks, school report cards, numerous action shots from my competitive running days, scrapbooks with newspaper clippings, group shots with old friends now mostly deceased, military mementos, programs and scorecards from events during the 1940s and ‘50s, a dozen or more certificates and diplomas, hundreds of articles I had contributed to various newspapers, magazines and journals over the past seven decades, going back to my high school newspaper, a lock of hair from my first haircut, a bill for $1.50 from my first visit to a dentist, and sundry odds and ends.
One of the photos has Hawaii’s Diamond Head, an extinct volcano, almost perfectly framed by tree branches as I race down Mount Tantalus (see below). It was one of many photos I tossed in the wastebasket but then retrieved and placed back in the box. It seemed as if I were discarding memories as well as objects. Moreover, one of the things I’ve learned in life is that as soon as I throw away something, a need for it develops within a month.
I had already sorted out some of the family photos a few years earlier and gave them to my two daughters and brother. Still, there were hundreds left over that they didn’t have the space or need for. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them in the trash then and was hoping to be less materialistic this time. Several years before that, I had dumped 50 or more trophies, including one about two-feet tall from the New York City Marathon. I struggled to dispose of those trophies, as my ego conflicted with Matthew 6:19, which reads, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy…”
I did not want them to be dust-collecting ego pacifiers, but, at the same time, they served as symbols of memorable experiences. I have forgotten much over 83-plus years and didn’t want to forget those experiences. Many were already buried in my subconscious before being raised above the threshold of my consciousness by the trophies and photos.
Those running souvenirs were especially difficult to part with. Years of running helped me learn to commit myself to a goal; to discipline myself to the demands of that goal; to develop and adapt; to pace myself for the short term and long haul; to cruise, to struggle, to push on, to slowly die; then to be reborn (after crossing the finish line). The lessons learned were applied to more serious endeavors and seemed to work. I wondered if I could hold on to those memories without the materialistic symbols. The trophies went into some big trash bags and came out again, but Matthew and Gina finally prevailed as I reluctantly put them in the trash can. I did keep three from the Honolulu Marathon that appeared to be works of art, possibly collector’s items (see below). I talked my younger daughter into taking one of them, but the other two remain unclaimed.
I gave a grandson my old autograph book with some legendary signatures like Jackie Robinson, Bob Feller, Ernie Lombardi, Larry Doby, Luke Easter, Billy Martin, Cookie Lavagetto, and many other baseball stars from yesteryear, but he isn’t much of a baseball fan and so I held on to some old scorebooks and other sports memorabilia. Someone suggested I could sell them on e-bay, but I don’t think it’s worth the effort or the postage. Besides, I couldn’t bring myself to sell them no matter how many dollars they might fetch.
Outside the closet with the boxes are shelves and shelves of books, maybe 700, that will overwhelm Gina when the time comes for her to move to a smaller abode. There’s one signed by “Patience Worth,” no doubt by Pearl Curran, her medium, with a long inscription to a friend, another by medium George Valiantine, still another by Lou Zamperini, subject of the hit 2014 movie Unbroken. I should get rid of them now, but it is difficult to give them up before it is absolutely necessary. When that “absolute” time comes, it’s too late. It’s a very ambivalent “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situation. I feel especially selfish holding on to the books and leaving them for Gina to get rid of, but the books still provide interest, information, inspiration, and intrigue in leisure times, which are more abundant these days. I’d rather read them than play games or watch some second-rate television program.
So much for our worldly treasures! They fade, tear, rust, stain, tarnish, or end up in boxes stored in a closet or in the attic before eventually being tossed in the trash or sold for fifty cents at a garage sale. I recall once browsing at a garage sale and seeing framed family photos, the attire of the photographed subjects suggesting that they were taken during the 1940s or ‘50s, in boxes and being sold for a dollar each, subject to negotiation down to fifty cents, no doubt for the value of the frames. I wondered if the only thing remaining of those people in the pictures might be some mention on ancestry.com. A few generations down the line, some distant progeny might look at his or her family tree on the Internet and wonder who the ancestor with the funny haircut and old-fashioned attire was. The ancestor will be just a name with his or her dates of birth and death listed. Then again, cyber wars might eliminate all electronic records by that time. It will then be as if the person never existed. Hopefully, whatever love and service the person was able to contribute during his or her lifetime will have filtered down and have had a positive effect on some descendants.
In effect, all those worldly “treasures” remaining in the eight boxes are meaningless in the long run. They are worth nothing to anybody but myself. Shame on me for holding on to them. Even more shame on me when I think of all the people who in recent weeks have lost all material possessions, including photo albums and other keepsakes, to wildfires, hurricanes, and floods. They’ll be deprived of their mementos for many more years, while I had mine for nearly all my years.
As I see it, there is only one effective way to live, and that is “to live in eternity,” which means living in the present, past, and future all at the same time. The present should dominate one’s consciousness, but the past and future must be factored in, I believe, if one is to have proper perspective. Viewing some old photos and odds and ends from the past every now and then does serve as a reminder of how adversity can be overcome, while pondering on what comes after death can brighten the future.
As for those eight remaining boxes, I’ve asked my wife not to bother sorting through them after I’ve departed this realm of existence, and to simply trash them. Before that time comes, I might do a little more sorting and reminiscing.
Next blog post: October 12
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His forthcoming book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is due in February 2021.
People live a lot longer than they think…I look forward to reading your blog for many more years!
There can be great joy in remembering special people and places going down memory lane and I think that it is wonderful to do so.
Life goes so fast that we don’t fully enjoy some of the things we have accomplished or events we have been through “while in the moment.”
Reflections on these brought on by the items we have around, can show how much we may have grown as a person/spirit and changed in this
particular life. I do not believe it is selfish or an ego trip to do so to.
As for books, any of the paranormal… definitely to a library…at Lilydale (I was looking for a book there years ago when
I went, and they really could use some more), or the Psychic College library in London or other people who you know who
enjoy those types of books… But, you still have plenty of time!
Spiritists always leave instructions on who to pass along their libraries to!
My husband passed due to cancer and it might surprise you to know that the kids and I remembered many good times we had
while going through his items, they were filled with loving memories.
You never know what you have until it is gone, and that goes for people…what may seem silly or worthless now, may have
more meaning for family later on. Those items a reflection of who you are! Be proud!
Michael Tymn, Sun 4 Oct, 21:42
Unlike boomers cleaning out their lived-through-the-depression parents’ house then returning to their own homes and seeing all of their possessions with new eyes, poor Sennacherib didn’t live long enough to consider such things, as he was murdered by his second son before he turned 40.
Even so, thanks to the Babylonians, who destroyed and burned Nineveh (thereby baking no end of clay tablets) his library—updated with material from his successors—survived, providing endless activity for archeologists.
That’s why you might considering hiring some specialists. They would first translate all of your books into cuneiform script, then transfer this to fresh new clay tablets. (Meanwhile, your library could continue to provide you with pleasure right up to your end.)
The tablets could then be hardened by baking and buried in some suitable location for future archeologists to puzzle over.
Bill Ingle, Fri 2 Oct, 17:55
I just reread this - and remembered that Lily Dale the Spiritualist’s community near Lake Erie in New York State has a library. When I was doing research there, (several years ago now) the librarian told me they accepted used books on their interested subjects so many of you if you have classics could email the librarian there and see if this is still true. One of my friends recently moved to an over 55 community. She didn’t take her books with her and she’s so sorry now. So I vote for those people who will be cleaning up our organized mess when we go - they need to have a job to remember us by and then many of our friends can also help giving them a purpose! Blessings to all Karen
karen Herrick, Fri 2 Oct, 17:39
Michael - enjoyed your latest blog on possessions and what to do with them. I’m hoping advances in our knowledge of quantum mechanics will enable me to be “entangled” with my most sentimental memorabilia so that I can take them with me. Fingers crossed they’ll be enough storage in my next abode!
Roy Stemman, Fri 2 Oct, 16:32
Amos Oliver Doyle, Thu 1 Oct, 23:40
Sometimes depending upon the book, state historical societies might be interested in some books pertinent to the history of the state. Some states have a state library which might take some old books with a history. I think that only local city libraries might be interested in the run-of -the-mill books written within the past 50 years or so.Eventually they too will sell them for pennies on the dollar if they are not rare or special in some way. I do have at least one or more rare books related to Pearl Curran and Patience Worth which i plan to donate to the Missouri Historical Society to add to their collection of Patience Worth things.- AOD
I agree, but there are many obstacles to giving them to some other person or organization. In my case, several people have asked for them, but they want just the “classics” in the field. I’ve destroyed some of the value of those books, by highlighting key points, which does not help selling old books. The primary problem is in knowing which books they want, then packing them up, and getting them to the post office. Media rate for one box of books, about 15-20 of them, is around $20 now, I think.
As I want to keep most of the books they want, even to read on my deathbed, it would be up to my wife to figure out who wants what, and therein is the additional problem. Out of my 700 books, there are people might want. I don’t care to take the time to sort them out at this point. Also, many libraries are going digital and don’t want the clutter of old books.
I don’t think there is an easy answer. Thanks for your thoughts.
Michael Tymn, Thu 1 Oct, 22:44
Thanks, Michael, for the kind and helpful response. I should have done a blog search before posting. And at the risk of repeating the error, I wanted to share with you and your readers a portion of a parable attributed to Jesus; i.e., the story of the rich man and Lazarus. In the afterlife, where the formerly poor and suffering Lazarus is in paradise and the rich man who ignored him in torment, the rich man asks if Abraham will sent Lazarus back to warn his brothers about the consequences of living without compassion. Abraham’s answer, according to Jesus, has always struck me as profound, even more so after reading your excellent books and other works about afterlife research. “They have Moses and The Prophets. If they will not listen to them, they will not listen to Lazarus, even if he comes back from the dead.”
Newton Finn, Thu 1 Oct, 22:23
Well, being one who is currently evacuated from the fires in Santa Rosa, I have had to learn about what to take. It is at least my fourth or fifth evacuation since 2017. My parents lost their home that year and walked away with only what they were wearing.
For me, take some clothes to wear, computer, iPad iPhone a couple important papers, and I can replace everything else. Had to with my folks. Hoping I don’t have to for myself this time. My dad just turned 100 in August. Mom right behind, and they got evacuated last year again.
Martha Barton, Thu 1 Oct, 22:10
Sometimes one might be surprised to find that local history museums / associations and specialty libraries / archives welcome old photos of local people, sights, and such. If it’s really painful to part with, that might be something to consider.
C.M. Mayo, Thu 1 Oct, 21:57
Besides the personal issues about memorabilia, you touch on another that can loom large as we age: what to do with books we’ve accumulated. Most of us who comment at your blog have a personal library of books (and I guess we now have to add DVDs) concerning afterlife and paranormal phenomena. They may be rare and out of print. In many cases we don’t want to dispose of them “before time,” because they still offer us guidance and inspiration.
Even if we decide to let some of them go, where to? It’s especially daunting if the collection is large, like yours.
Surely we want them to go where they can be read again by others. Tossing them in the trash is a painful option. Selling them to small independent used bookstores is impractical, because there are few such dealers left. And many don’t fancy taking a chance on them, since their subjects are unfashionable now.
Occasional exceptions exist, such as Watkins in London, where I’ve bought several used books. But selling them to Watkins etc. is bound (see what I did there?) to be inconvenient, except for those who live in central London.
All else failing, they should come to rest in institutional libraries specializing in psychical research and the like. Two problems there. (1) Not many such libraries exist, and (2) they are likely to have most of the books on offer already on their shelves.
A surprising number of online sites (e.g., Internet Archive) make available post-copyright books, but those are from the early 20th century and before. If one wants to donate books where the copyright has expired, it might be worth seeing if archival sites are interested.
Any other ideas, Mike and fellow commenters?
Rick Darby, Thu 1 Oct, 21:33
Yes, I am familiar with Deborah Blum’s book. I read it soon after its release in 2007 and interviewed her for my blog at that time. It was a very impressive book and ranks up there with Leslie Kean’s book, “Surviving Death” among the books which have been published by mainstream publishers in recent years. I thought we would hear more from Deborah, but apparently not. Here is the last question I put to her in the interview:
What do you think your book has accomplished?
Michael Tymn, Thu 1 Oct, 20:03
“Well, despite the lack of reviews in scientific journals, I was able to write opinion pieces on the subject in both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. And I
was interviewed on Science Friday, another venue that doesn’t spend much time on supernatural subjects. I was able to reach an unusually diverse audience and, I hope, to raise questions about how we define reality, how we define science, in a thoughtful way. I’ve actually heard from a surprising number of very supportive scientists as well as
from people already engaged with the issue. Even on Science Friday, half the callers wanted to talk about their occult encounters. I hope the book helped make some people less dogmatic. It did that for me - opened up the edges of the world in some truly fascinating ways.”
Michael, thank you for a poignant piece that touched me. I have half a basement full of boxes of such momentos collected from my past family life, and while my wife and I have gone through some of them, I don’t have the strength or desire to continue the process. I guess this will be just one more burden I will leave to my surviving loved ones, who may find their own fond memories in sorting the stuff out, keeping some, disposing of the rest. BTW, I just finished “Ghost Hunters” by Deborah Blum, which I felt provided a great deal of meaningful context to much of the afterlife research books I’ve been reading. I was wondering what you and your readers thought of it, especially its rather humble and vulnerable conclusion publicly made a professional science journalist. It seemed a far cry from the reductionist denial I expected to encounter.
Newton Finn, Thu 1 Oct, 17:37
Many thanks to all for the kind comments and advice. My mood is not really as dour as the article might have suggested. I’m something of a pessimist within a positive framework. During my running days, I found that if I approached a race too confident, I would almost always lose or have a bad race. If I approached it somewhat pessimistically, I would win or at least have a good race. It seems to work that way with me in other life pursuits.
Kawika, my trophies would not have survived much longer. They were 20-40 years old when I dumped them in 2002 and most were badly tarnished. Hawaii’s humidity was not kind to the cheap metal most were made out of, especially those in the attic, where the temperature might have been 115 degrees. Those not in the attic were tarnished to a lesser extent but also suffered from gekko droppings. Fortunately, the gekko population seems to have diminished since then. At least we don’t have as many making their way inside the house as we did at our old house. People not from Hawaii may not grasp all that.
Michael Tymn, Tue 29 Sep, 21:33
That post was a good read. I’d been meaning to subscribe to your mailing list for a while but finally did it today.
It had a lot of meaning to me because of what I’ve been through over the past two years. When I realised there was a good chance I’d end up living in a car, I gradually had to start getting rid of everything.
In hindsight car living wasn’t necessary, but I’d never faced the prospect of homelessness, and didn’t have a clue where to start, nor the government resources available (which I discovered after the car broke down in June last year). It was a rather draconian move, but I only understood this with hindsight.
So by late November 2018 I ended up with the proverbial “only the clothes on my back”. I had several thousand pages of journals spanning 45 years, now all gone. The elimination process was necessary, because I had to put current reality before sentimentality.
In a way, it was a relief to get rid of all the baggage and to metaphorically be “born again”, to start afresh with no baggage. Do I regret the loss of so much memorabilia? Absolutely. But as you basically said, we can’t take anything with us when we die (where moth and rust consumes), and it can leave a mess and a burden for relatives.
One of the first things I learned and took to heart in Catholic primary school:
“Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.” (Luke 12:15, KJV)
As my father always said, “naked we came into this world, and naked we will go out”.
Fame and fortune are irrelevant, because death is “the great equaliser”.
Best to you.
Ray Agostini, Tue 29 Sep, 18:19
I hope you’ll take Amos’ beautifully expressed words to heart.Whatever the negative aspects of a person’s passing—-the loneliness, the grief, etc.—-are representative of nothing more than our earth-bound limitations. As you well know, better perhaps than nearly anyone else on this planet, those limitations leave us soon enough, as our true blossoming begins.
Don’t lose sight of the finish line at the end of the race!
Don Porteous, Tue 29 Sep, 15:00
I’ll agree with those who praise this particular blog entry, Mike. I forwarded it to several pals as the very topic of being in the present has been much with us. (And, as George Carlin wryly mentioned, the subject of “our STUFF”!
Oddly enough, due to events caused and created by myself, including health issues, I’ve craved an early departure from this mortal coil. (Ideated but not attempted,btw - big difference.) However, from all I’ve read and believe about our lives both here and beyond, I definitely have reason to hesitate. The bag we leave others to hold, as it were, can be unforgivable in size - to say nothing of the pain and confusion that happen to our beloved when suicide occurs.
You’ve written the polar opposite of a suicide note: This is a clarion call to heed each moment and to cherish the ways those moments braid with ones in our past. Where it all unfolds and makes sense happens later - in the highest realms of the astral kingdoms. Lest that seem religious, I’m really alluding to vibrational frequency more than anything else.
I suppose I’m saying that if I’ve learned anything vital about afterlife research, it’s avoidance of immense regret - the haunting kind and not any ghostly silliness. Thank you again and always for your diligent appraisals of voluminous afterlife material. Actually, thanks to you, Keith Parsons, the gang at Metascience Foundation, Spiritist lit, et al, many of us now have birds’ eye views of what’s possible in this life - not just the one which awaits.
All blessings on your path.
Brett, Tue 29 Sep, 14:54
I almost freaked out when my friend threw out a few of his trophies he had accumulated in his youth. He was only 40. Now I’m 55 and have accumulated 5 or 6 boxes of the same type of trophies. How long will I hang on to them? I struggle with the same thoughts. Am I also discarding the memories. I know no one else will care when I die. That being said, I wish you had saved a few of those trophies. I’m putting together a Hawaii Running Museum and they would have displayed nicely there.
Kawika Carlson, Tue 29 Sep, 02:51
Michael, it makes me sad to hear you talk this way. You will transition when it is your time and not before. Those pictures and books mean a lot to you, they record times of your life and your interests. There is no need to dispose of them now. You may be around for another 20 or so years if it is the plan for your life. My mother and grandfather lived to be 102 years old. You might have time for at least one more book.
Gina and your children and grandchildren will be able to handle all that you leave behind quite well. Let them reminisce when you have moved on to another reality knowing that they will meet up with you at a later time. That activity will give them something to do so that they don’t ruminate too much about your passing. Llet them grieve. I am sure that there are local libraries or college libraries what would be pleased to have your library of books donated to them when you no longer want them.
With so much on=line now I think that local city libraries should become a repository of pictures of local citizens. Not the whole scrap book but maybe one or two pictures and a few other things representing the life of the citizen. I think it is such a sad thing to see scrapbooks of lives sold at garage sales and eventually thrown in the garbage or burned up.. There should be some way that one or two pictures of each person could be preserved in the local library. This could be done digitally and would not take up any space on the shelves. Libraries could become a repository of the local citizenry.
Anyhow, when we care about our spouse and family we want to make it easy for them when we pass on but it will not be easy no matter what. We all have to go through losing those we love and nothing makes it easy. We need to let them work out their grief by going through our things knowing that whatever they do with them is of no consequence to us. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Tue 29 Sep, 01:01
Well turned out piece. Fun to read.
Michael Schmicker, Mon 28 Sep, 20:53
I spent two hours yesterday in the basement looking through photos from 2001 and 2002 Small grandchildren some of whom now have small children of their own. I smiled and enjoyed it all and so should you. And my books - I love my books - ALL of them and they will be with me until I can’t hold on them any longer but until then they give me a sense of identity and pleasure. They are a big part of US - Thanks for your musings I always enjoy them Blessings from NJ Karen
Karen Herrick, Mon 28 Sep, 13:05
Mike what a great ‘colour piece’ blog. I enjoyed that as much or more than many of your excellent and erudite spiritual evidence discussions, since I don’t need persuading of the afterlife. And this piece brought back to me precisely your predicament, which I have shared twice in the past. When I moved house last time, getting rid of evidence going back over 50 years that renewed memories I had forgotton altogether, was deeply trying. A girlfriend writing a chatty letter to me at university, tickets to ballroom dancing classes (!), foreign travel itineraries from my work as a journalist, old receipts, a photo of a girl with whom I had a road accident. And, like you, I chucked so much and then regretted it. The same occurred when my mother died, it took a year to clear her house as I read old correspondence and saw photographs of no use or interest to anybody but me. Sorting memorabilia is a strange business and evoked in me some old questions - What’s it all about? Is life a short experience or a long one? Sometimes it is difficult to realise just where time has gone. So thanks again for this blog. One of your best among the best.
Keith P in England, Mon 28 Sep, 12:33
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