The Remains of a Life Lived Well

Estate salePurely on a whim during my drive to work Friday I stopped at a house where an estate sale was going on. It was the 25% off on the direction signs that caught my eye. I did find a few treasures: two books, an unused light dimmer, an old sepia-tone photograph and a comforter with a musical notes motif I plan to give a musician friend for Christmas.

One-quarter off meant the estate sale was winding down by my visit and what remained was largely the “left overs”. With much gone from the home, it was easy to notice the house had not been updated for decades. Seeing a 40th high school class reunion program from 1983 told me at least one of the previous occupants of the house would likely be near 90 years old if they were still living.

Maybe it was the was the wallpaper that was starting to come unglued at the seams and tired look of the home interior. Maybe it was the long out-of-style women’s clothing in a very small size marked cheaply for sale. Or, possibly it was the fact that someone’s evidence of life was being sold and spread to the wind. But whatever it was, I was emotionally affected.

…Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference in your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word it always was. Let it be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well. Rosamunde Pilcher

Walking through the estate sale house, most of all I felt was reverence for a life lived. What was still for sale in the kitchen told me who ever had lived there liked to entertain. A Dutch book in English about the art featured in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam indicates the previous occupants liked to travel. A box of a large quantity of oil paint-stained art brushes of all sizes indicated someone not only like to view art, but also make it them self. This helped create an image to me of a real person who lived a real life.

Many African societies divide humans into three categories: those still alive on the earth, the sasha, and the zamani. The recently departed whose time on earth overlapped with people still here are the sasha, the living-dead. They are not wholly dead, for they still live in the memories of the living, who can call them to mind, create their likeness in art, and bring them to life in anecdote. When the last person to know an ancestor dies, that ancestor leaves the sasha for the zamani, the dead. As generalized ancestors, the zamani are not forgotten but revered. Many … can be recalled by name. But they are not the living-dead. There is a difference.” James w. Loewen.

I left the estate sale yesterday feeling sad for someone’s death, but came around today to believing I visited the remains of  life lived well. One of the treasures I purchased for seventy-five cents was an old sepia-toned photograph from a box of random black and white’s of various sizes. The image is at the top of this blog; an attractive woman in her early twenties in clothing that suggests her time was early in the twentieth century.

The woman in the photograph looks out through time and makes eye contact with me as I write. I am grateful to her for helping me humanize my estate sale experience yesterday and allowing me to bear witness she once lived.

We all leave traces of ourselves behind. I hope someday strangers will find the bits and pieces I have strewn about to be meaningful like the leave behinds I discovered yesterday.

Life is pleasant.
Death is peaceful.
It’s the transition that’s troublesome.
Isaac Asimov