“For now we see through a glass, darkly”
How apt that quotation from 1 Corinthians 13:12 is on an Easter Monday. I am also reminded of another quotation from the same chapter of 1 Corinthians 13.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" 1 Corinthians 13:11
It often amazes me how our perception of things change when viewed from a different perspective in new circumstances.
Sometime back we had a close relative who we would visit on regular occasions. A sweet little old lady who was so patient and peaceful. She would always serve us tea in fine bone china cups and poured this from a silver teapot on a silver tray. There were always some form of ‘treat’ associated with the taking of tea – a homemade cake or a slice – made with loving hands in the old way before the ‘Quik serve’ of the supermarkets prevailed over family celebrations.
This relative lived in a residential block of single level flats that was reserved for persons over the age of 65, so that she lived in common with many that were of her own age, yet each had their own self-contained accommodation. You could mix or not mix, as you chose to do so. Previously her husband, now deceased, had resided with her.
The complex had a common open area, a green space, tended to by a contracted gardener. Each resident had a small concrete patio that opened on to the garden and they were allowed a small plot next to their patio where they could sow plants of their choice. Each of those areas adjoined their neighbour’s garden but the housing authority arbitrated on the space one could use for personal gardening. My relative was content to have her small area in which she grew some fresh garden herbs for the kitchen and had planted some purple flowering Irises, a flower she liked very much, which also served as a demarcation point between her plot and that of her neighbour.
It was a pleasant place, bright and sunny aspect and as we sat and drank our tea the sun would shine into the living area, warming and lighting it naturally. I would look around at the wall decorations, the pictures of family on the bureau, coloured prints on the wall – mostly landscape scenes - the accoutrement's of a lady living alone that surrounded us, lace and linen tablecloths and her ‘sewing corner’.
There was an air of peace and tranquility and I was struck by how fortunate she was to be able to live so comfortably in her mature years.
She became unwell and spent some time in hospital. The time came when she passed on. At her funeral service her son, the executor of her estate, told us he had been approached by the housing authority. They had another person to come into her flat in the complex and they needed it to be cleared of her belongings as soon as possible. All flats were repainted and re-carpeted on vacancy and there were trades people on stand-by to carry out the renovations. This was the Thursday of her funeral.
There was some discussion amongst the family as to who would have the task of attending to her possessions and clearing her flat. It fell upon us as we lived close and her other family were more distantly located. I asked her son if there was anything that the family wanted from her possessions and was told to dispose of them as we saw fit and it would be left to us to decide. I was slightly taken back as I recalled all the fine things that were in her flat and was surprised that no-one wanted anything. I was told that there was little of value and what was there would probably find its way to the local garbage tip or ‘Op Shop’.
We advised the authority for the complex that we would be there on the next Monday to clear out her belongings. So, towing a box trailer with lots of cardboard cartons folded flat and armed with rolls of gaffer tape and marker pens, we arrived early on the Monday morning.
The painter was waiting for us. I spoke to him and told him that we had not even made a move on clearing the flat. He explained he knew that but would we mind if he had a look to see how much work would be needed. He explained that her flat had been listed for re-painting and re-carpeting three times during her occupancy and every time she had refused to have it done, saying she was happy with the way it was. A quick look and he took a rag out of his pocket, wet it under a tap and wiped it over the dining room wall. It left a large brown smear with a lighter centre. He said he would be back that evening to sugar soap and prepare the walls so that he could re-paint it tomorrow before the carpet layers arrived on the Wednesday.
The painted wall that we had always thought as a coffee brown colour was actually painted in a light shade of cream. It was then that we looked at the carpet, moved a few mats and noticed that it was ‘tatty’ and going threadbare – but scrupulously clean. From there it was a tour of discovery.
The bedroom contained an old wire framed double bed base with wooden head and wooden footer, a dresser with mirror and a wardrobe. It was all older style stained wood furniture. Inside the wardrobe clothes were divided with summer dresses to one side and winter dresses to the other. Beneath her dresses and a single grey coat were a row of shoes and a pair of slippers and all well worn. On top of the wardrobe were cardboard boxes, all taped shut. We opened one to discover that they were full of men’s clothing – her long deceased husband’s clothes - she had never been able to let them go.
The bed linen and blankets were also well worn and thin. An electric blanket was her sole concession to cool winter evenings. The dresser was full of underwear and the sort of things one would expect an older lady to have.
The kitchen was well used and all the kitchenware bore the signs of that use. Baking dishes and trays brown with wear, pots and pans showing the dents of age associated with their use. The crockery was plain and mismatched. The ‘good bone china’ consisted of four cups, four saucers and four dessert plates. The ‘silverware’ was well worn , the base metal showing through years of being lovingly polished.
We found some new sheets still in their shop wrappers and we also found some towels, tea towels and tablecloths that we could make use of. Most of the other linen was worn but carefully repaired. The cotton of the lacework was fraying and signs of careful repairs were evident. We were able to see some use for some of the kitchen utensils. There were very few items of personal value – the odd broach, a pendant on a chain and some paste jewelry.
There was a knock at the door. An old man stood there with an unlit pipe clenched in his teeth. I recognised him as a local antique and second hand furniture dealer. He told us that the authority had told him we would be here today and he wondered if there was anything he could take off our hands. He must’ve seen the flash of anger in my eyes. He raised his hand and said:
“Now hold on sonny. I’m not here to take advantage of you. I know these old flats and the people who live in them and there’s hardly a one with any furniture worth nought.” He went on, “You can haul it away if you wish but I doubt if you’ll find much useful applications for it. Most of it will probably end up as rubbish or at the Op Shop. If I take it then someone who needs affordable furniture will most likely get to buy it”
“I have a second hand furniture shop at the back of my antique shop. I don’t make much out of second hand furniture, barely worth my while handling it, but it does draw people through the front shop and that’s where I can make a living. I’m happy to load and haul all of this out of here for you and I’ll take to the garbage tip what is of no use or cannot be re-sold by law – that mattress for example.” He pointed into the bedroom with his pipe stem.
We asked him if he like a cup of tea? He said that would be nice but would we mind if he drank it while he worked. He called in his off-sider and they began to move the furniture.
By the end of the day the flat was empty. We had kept about a quarter of its contents and knew within ourselves that much of that would also be thrown away.
So, what is the sum total of a lifetime on this earth?
“for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” 1 Timothy 6:7
“Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.” Ecclesiastes 5:15
Happy Easter to all and remember that Easter is the time of re-birth and renewal, God has given Christians "a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead"