There’s this teapot. Pale turquoise and old. It used to sit on a little table behind my grandmother’s chair. Whenever we visited Aunty, as we called her, it was a backdrop to her rocking and telling stories. When she was headed toward her end days she gave things away. She asked me what I wanted and I told her the teapot. Not because it was worth money but because when I see it, I see her there, in that chair.
So where is the teapot now? Safely kept in a high cupboard. My husband has a habit of breaking things. I’ve learned over the years that things actually mean nothing. They’re just objects. Their value comes from the stories and memories, which can’t be broken or lost. So I don’t get too attached to things anymore. And if there is something I’m attached to, it gets placed in an out-of-the-way spot. Of course I recognize the teapot has no value in that cupboard. I rarely remember I have it. Someday my son will wonder why I kept that old thing I never used.
Occasionally I come across this popular writer’s prompt: ‘what do you carry?’. Of course there are so many interpretations of this question, from the emotional burdens we carry, to our secrets, to our things and how they reflect on our life. What do you carry?
I spent most of July traveling in Scotland and Denmark. The first time I went to Scotland, in 1979, I had a small backpack that carried all I needed for six weeks. This time I had a large rolling bag to check in and a smaller bag for under the airline seat.
I packed way too many things. Partly because I googled Scotland weather and read it was raining, rather than contacting friends to find out they were having record-breaking heat. The woman I traveled with packed even more, and then bought luggage to hold all the things she bought. She traveled with six pairs of shoes and four different jackets, all the same style, but different colors. I don’t even own six pairs of shoes.
In airports and train stations and buses, I saw the things we feel we need to carry. So much paraphernalia. So much stuff. Especially on the planes. I feared we would never get off the ground. It was rare to find someone traveling light, and typically when I did, it was a young person with a backpack.
Why do we need so many things? Is it a sign of our culture, a sign of affluence? Would any of those things we feel the need to travel with help us if the plane crashed on a deserted island? Would six pairs of shoes keep you alive? Then why do we need them?
It’s not just traveling overseas that I see this. Every Friday when I leave work I see the same thing on the highway. People headed east for the weekend, hauling huge trailers, driving giant bus-like motor-homes that in turn tow boats and smaller cars, or more trailers. All of it full of the things they can’t go a weekend without.
Things make life easier but they also weigh us down, physically and emotionally. I came home from this trip promising myself I’m going to get rid of stuff.
Except the teapot.