Apparently, I’ve grappled with the problem of mortality from the age of four. My parents told me that I asked—probably triggered by an explanation about the death of my grandfather—“Why is God always making new people? Why doesn’t he just keep the ones he’s got?”
Just keeping what you’ve got has always made sense to me. In infancy I had a baby-blue security blanket—which I called my donny—that I dragged everywhere with me for years. I would have kept it longer, but when it deteriorated to what my father considered a disgustingly dirty piece of rag, he tossed it on a pile of burning pine straw. In a minute my donny was gone. I haven’t felt secure since.
I drive a 19-year-old car, a 1997 Firebird with 180,000 miles on it. The dash is cracked, the upholstery faded. It has some leaks, too many dents and scratches to count, and sometime’s there’s a smell like burning oil—but I’m in no hurry to let it go. Firebirds aren’t made anymore, and I truly cannot find a new car I like better.
Every Christmas, I decorate a tabletop Christmas tree that I bought for a dollar at W.T. Grant’s 46 years ago. It sheds dozens of its glued-on green cellophane needles every year, getting thinner and thinner. But it looks absolutely fine—good even—after it’s all decorated with a 20-year-old string of lights and ornaments I’ve cherished for decades.
I owned a heavy-as-a-boulder cathode-ray-tube TV till just last year. While I was in bed with a stomach virus, my wife and stepson bought a flatscreen without telling me because they knew I’d think it wasteful—a shame even—to replace something that was working perfectly fine.
I realize these facts might make me sound like a hoarder or at the very least a quirky, must-have-lived-through-the-Depression-era old coot. But in my view there’s a lot at stake here. By holding on to old ratty things I’m trying to send a signal to my wife: “Baby, even though I have a long list of signs of wear, and could easily be replaced with a newer model—why not just hold on to me a little while longer?”
And of course I hope God is paying attention to my example as well. Why be in a hurry to replace people just because we’ve aged? Just because our needles have thinned? Just because we’re bulky and overweight? Just because we have a few leaks and dents and could smell better?
A few Christmases ago, my wife gave me a new belt to replace the one I’d been wearing for twenty-five years. She had cleverly commissioned it to be made by a Hollywood movie prop company to look almost exactly like my old one, except that it wasn’t about to break in half. The leather had been artificially aged; it was faded in color and looked old. I taught literature too many years for the symbolism to be lost on me. It made me feel . . . What’s the word? Oh yeah—distressed.
OK, I’ll admit it: I do wear the new belt.
As for the old belt? I haven’t thrown it away. It’s way, way back in a closet. Where I hope not even God can find it.
My thanks to Wildacres Writers Retreat, where this piece was written.