Kim Henderson: Pondering mortality

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, May 21st. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Kim Henderson now on taking time to ponder your own mortality.

KIM HENDERSON, COMMENTATOR: Every “estate sale” sign has a story behind it, and the plot is sure to contain two critical elements: life and death. That’s why visiting one is an exercise in sobriety. If plundering through the remains of someone’s threescore and ten, factored down to a pile of Tupperware and queen-sized sheets, does not remind you of your own mortality, you are not, I would guess, very good at making associations.

And though every aging saga is unique in its details, most narratives include a chapter on an end-of-life move, either to Daughter Judy’s or the rest home or, in this case, “assisted living.” At least that’s what the ad said regarding the missus. After decades behind a pulpit, it seems the mister had joined a celestial congregation.   

As I merged with other gleaners, I was reminded that old has a certain smell. It wafts up thick from vinyl suitcases and a stack of Perry Como albums. Old also has a look, evident in a kitchen outfitted when tomato aspic was all the rage.

While I fingered a set of Oneida flatware, I overheard the lady with the cashbox tell someone that yes, her mother knew they were selling the house, but she didn’t know about “this.”   

I pictured that mother frowning over people pilfering through her coffee cups. Oh, this estate sale stuff is sad business. Nothing is sacred. It’s a home soil invasion.

And for the kids left to clean up after a demise, an estate sale is ground zero. I am told that memories threaten to detonate at every turn, even under a couch cushion where a photo from Easter 1973 was stashed. Those left behind, like the lady with the cash box, must take it on the chin and learn to look the other way as their father’s favorite Florsheims go for fifty cents.

I played my part in the drama, not by investing in the $600 set of china, but by buying two sprinklers and a shoe rack. As I loaded my finds, a fellow buyer joked that her husband wasn’t “garage sale savvy.”

“He thinks he can put a lamp shade in our truck bed,” she laughed.

I wanted to tell her she couldn’t use the terms “garage sale” and “estate sale” interchangeably. One is about cleaning out, and the other – the one involving her new lamp – was about clearing out. There’s a big difference. You can see it plainly at estate sales after the half-price round ends on Saturday afternoons. Most times the house is nearly empty, leaving little behind except naked curtain rods and hard questions.

What really withstands time?

Fostoria glassware?

Craftsman tools?

Pastor John Piper says we should think often of life’s end. He writes that there is scarcely any thought that will purge our priorities of vain and worldly perceptions like the thought of our imminent death.

I would only add that an estate sale provides the perfect setting for such contemplations.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

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