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Life as Performance Art

    James Barrie, best remembered as the author of Peter Pan, also wrote a short play he called, “The Old Woman Shows Her Medals.”  It is a sad tale of an elderly widow who would periodically go to the local train station, and if she saw a soldier home on leave from the Western Front in France with no family to greet him, would invite him home for a meal.  One afternoon she met a lonely soldier and extended the invitation. Now, if you think you know where this is leading, forget it.  There was neither hankie nor pankie on the agenda.  It was a meal in a home, end of discussion.
    Over dinner, the two talked.  She asked about the medals on his uniform, about his hometown, and how he was managing during the war.  As the evening wore down, she asked if she could show the soldier her medals. He agreed. She refilled their wine glasses, put the song Dardanelles on her Victrola, and retrieved a small box from the drawer in the sideboard.
    Inside were three wine corks, and she explained that these were the only tangible reminders of a dinner she had shared with her husband decades earlier, just before he went off to another war in another part of the world, never to return.  She treasured them as if they were military medals awarded for valor.
    With that, the stage lights dim, and the curtain descends.
    I think of that play from time to time because, like perhaps all of us, there are similar medals sprinkled throughout our home.  In the bookcase just to the left of my writing desk the top shelve holds three Toby mugs and a marble scarab that belonged to Mother, some small woodcarvings done by my father, three small busts of Churchill I bought in Canada, and a clip of wooden bullets from a great uncle who was in the Swedish army.  Together, they would fit into a small shoebox, with room left over for other memorabilia.
     If only it was just the one shelf, but it goes on from there throughout our home:  delicate bone China coffee cups that belonged to Pat’s mother, two full sets of English China, crystal, silver, and more.  My guess is that you could say much the same thing about your home.  We all share the question of what to do with it when we are no longer here.
    Many of us would like to be able to pass it on to a grateful next generation. It’s not that we want to keep these objects in the family, but the dark secret is that it is part of our quest for immorality. If a child, grand, or great has the object and knows that they came from us, it keeps our name alive at least a little while longer.
     The Egyptians started that quest for immorality with their pyramids, tombs, and mummification. If the body was preserved and their name remembered, they had immortality.  At first it was just for the royalty, but then some of the tomb builders began carving their name into obscure places. They believed that when they died, they could accompany the occupant of the tomb into eternal life.  It is sort of like people today who want to get past the velvet rope at a popular club by saying, “I’m a friend of the band.”
     It is a chancy thing, this type of quest for immorality, and in the end, it probably is not going to pan out.  You know exactly what I mean whenever you walk through an old cemetery.  Stone markers are carefully put into place, but after a while, they erode and the names and dates weather away. Later, the stone cracks and breaks, and the pieces are propped up.  At other places, there might be a stone urn for flowers, but it has been emptying for years.  Family members have moved away or died out. That is discouraging for us because we fear it might be our fate, as well.
      Right now, it seems the best way of achieving immorality is the most ephemeral of all: the on-line ancestry and family tree organizations that record and preserve names and dates, preserved somewhere on the ‘cloud.’ Of course, one good solar flare, and that’s the end of that.  If that happens whoever is around will have more important things on their minds than long-lost relatives.
      With one of those major milestone birthdays fast approaching, I am increasingly aware that the time is coming sooner, rather than later, when I will fall off my perch.  Something will have to be done about my ‘medals’ and I think the answer was foisted upon us during the pandemic.
     For many of us, the real challenge is that the next generations just don’t seem to want the family China and crystal, or many of the other heirlooms.  It’s not their style, and there is not much we can do about it.
       So, let’s get out the good stuff, use it, and create some happy memories for ourselves for the future.  If nothing else, we can at least leave the message behind that we made good use of it and truly knew how to enjoy life.
      Put on the clothes or outfit, the shoes, that you have been saving ‘for good’ or special occasions.  Make today the special occasion. Otherwise, you are likely to next wear those things in your casket.
      Go forth and create wonderful memories for your own future.

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