We all love new, shiny things and we work hard and sacrifice to obtain them. Parents work longer hours and, sometimes, extra jobs to make ends meet, to be able to gather more material wealth so that they can ‘keep up with the Joneses.’ Children offer to do extra chores around the house and, perhaps, the neighbourhood, for pay, learning, from an early age, to bow down at the altar of possessions.
There is no doubt that we love material things. Sometimes, we treasure these things more than ourselves – like the employee from a Bishopgate Street annex of a ministry who, some time ago, walked from the lobby at Jolly Beach Resort to his car, in the parking lot, with his shoes in his hand owing to a heavy downpour. Asked the reason for his madness, the man replied that he’d paid US$300 for the Italian leather boots, and that he was not about to ruin them by traipsing through water. We recall, as well, the young man who waded through rising water when he was caught in a sudden heavy downpour on his way from football one Saturday afternoon. That vain man took off his spanking new Nike high tops – because he didn’t want to ruin a good thing. But as he made his way through the gushing water, he stepped on a rusty corned beef tin, and suffered a gash that required double-digit stitches. These stories may seem funny to some, extreme to others, but most of us have tales to tell (either ours or someone close to us) about the material possessions dear to our hearts that we will go overboard to protect.
Some people spend tons of money on crystal-cut glasses and fine-bone china and then place them in an overcrowded cabinet. Many die without ever sitting down to a meal where the fineries are used. One woman we know of spent a long lifetime building her collection. She returned home one day to find that an incident had cost her almost all of her treasures, including unused gifts from her wedding, long dissolved. She had thought too much of them to use them – a stance she regretted as she heaped the shards of glass, dustpan full after dustpan full, into the garbage. And then there’s an internet story about a man going through his wife’s prized possessions – her underwear, clothing, shoes and jewellery – all untouched, because she liked them so much she was saving them for a special occasion. That day came as her husband selected the very best for her burial. We all have things like these … the dress we’re saving for a special occasion that never comes, which eventually goes out of style. The suit or the new tie that is just too sharp to be “wasted” on work or church. As we stroll down memory lane, we remember the old woman from “Round South” whose children and grandchildren residing in the US would send her money. The woman didn’t want to spend a bad penny, and she didn’t trust bank administrators with her stash, so she kept it under her mattress. Upon her death, her family found money she’d accumulated over the years ripped and nibbled and left for tickertape by rodents. The hard-earned money had been of no use to the deceased or those who survived her.
The time is now to enjoy our possessions that we sometimes sacrifice to attain. Why not go home this afternoon and roll around on the bed that is made up with your best spread, just because? Don’t wait for the special occasion to wear your best and eat of your finest. Make dinner tonight for you and your significant other. Dress your best, use your favourite scent lavishly, light your candles that are melting in the summer heat and let the light dance off the crystal glass as you toast each other and celebrate life. Smile as the children trail mud across the living room carpet and spill juice on the couch. Concentrate on their laughter and energy filling the room and warming your heart rather than on the mess they are making and the things they seem intent on ruining.
The Calvin ‘Burga’ James guilty plea in a 2015 case (see story in today’s Daily Observer) that stemmed from a dispute over possessions is instructive, in that it brings to mind the irrationality that can accompany an inordinate love of ‘things.’ Material things can be replaced, but a life, once taken, cannot. And we are sure that ‘Burga’ must be contemplating the awful choice he made that day last year in another case when he opted to value things over life. He is facing two counts of murder and one of attempted murder, among other charges.
There’s a popular phrase about this or that to die for. It seems the house or the land was to die for. It’s nice to have things … old things, favourite things, shiny things, new things, expensive things, sentimental things … but it is wrong to let the material possessions define who we are and how we think, act and react.
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