Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Boxed In: Lent Is a Good Time to Ask Whether the Stuff We Hold on to Is Actually Holding Us Back

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Boxed In: Lent Is a Good Time to Ask Whether the Stuff We Hold on to Is Actually Holding Us Back

Article excerpt

EXTRA SPACE STORAGE IS THE BLUNTLY SELF-DESCRIPTIVE name of one of many companies that, in exchange for monthly rent, will let you stow all that junk you can no longer fit in your closet, attic, car trunk, or parents' basement. There are an astonishing number of them in Chicago; most are leftover warehouses retrofitted with rows and rows of lockers, sliding doors, and cages, complete with motion-sensitive lights and soft rock music, security keypads and locks. It's basically a creepy, climate-controlled tomb with Rod Stewart crooning in the background.

I have always made fun of these places as icons of American consumerism, thousands of little cubicles filled with God knows what. If you aren't using it, why keep it? Then I had to downsize while I waited for my house to be renovated, and about half what I owned ended up in a 10-by-10 locker, along with my self-righteousness.

I lived for a year without half my things, and I never really needed them. When I finally unpacked the dozens of boxes, I wondered why I had wasted hundreds of dollars storing them. There were mementos from high school and college, knickknacks from trips, old videos, and CDs. But most of it was books, books, and more books, along with notes from college classes and papers I had written more than a decade ago.

Why was I keeping all this stuff?. Did I really think I was going to take up biblical Greek again, or that I had a use for a 10-pound German dictionary? An anatomy textbook? Really?

I used to watch TV reality shows about people who have collected so much that they've become completely overwhelmed, prisoners of their own treasured possessions. They couldn't allow themselves to throw anything away, and they couldn't say why. Inevitably, once the work of dean-up had begun, the reason became obvious: grief and regret embodied in so many knickknacks, feelings that suddenly burst forth when the show's host suggested that Aunt Edna's broken teapot might be ready for the trash heap.

As I looked at my books and papers--almost all of them from my seminary and theology school days--I was surprised by my own unacknowledged sadness. Most of that library was a collection of dreams unfulfilled or only partially so, visions of myself that weren't to be: me as a priest and pastor, as a theologian and college professor. …

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