Last week we went to an auction intending to bid for half a dozen dining room chairs, and instead came home with a grandfather clock. As a twentieth century reproduction it would never be featured on Antique Roadshow, but it was in working order, the price was laughably cheap and most importantly, it was the stuff of a childhood dream to own a grandfather clock. Now it stands in our living area, tucked in between two bookcases, tick- tocking the minutes away, celebrating the hours with its melodious chimes.
I‘m curious about the clock’s story, who owned it before it ended up in an impersonal auction room with scores of other pre-owned, pre-loved pieces of furniture, pictures, china and jewellery. Maybe it was part of what is called ‘deceased -estate’, something that no-one in the family had room to accommodate. Whatever its story, minute by minute it measured the lives of the people who once valued it.
It’s not only clocks that mark the passing of time. This room where I am writing is scattered with purchases and gifts and once upon a time must-haves that mark the passage of my life. My pens are cluttered in a toby jug that once took pride of place on the mantelpiece of the first house I remember living in. The pottery vase on top of the bookcase is shaped from clay from a Northern Territory mission station where I taught for some years. The little Venetian mask near the light switch survived several months swaddled in bubble wrap in my daughter’s backpack as she travelled across Europe. On my desk is my father’s 1928 diary, the ups and downs of his 19 year old self written faintly in pencil.
Saints like Francis of Assisi who gave up all earthly possessions to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, would have trouble with women like me. We like to surround ourselves with bits and pieces . But we’re more story-tellers than hoarders. It’s not so much objects that we treasure, but the memories and stories wrapped up in them. Ordinary things have the power to link the present with the past, to connect generations, to make tangible family connections.
The thousands of Syrians tumbling out of boats and stumbling up on shingled European beaches have been left with nothing tangible to remind them of what once was. Young children trudge along the roads between countries, their teddy bears and favourite toys left in the ruin of shelled homes along with china passed down through generations and prized household possessions. Everything has been left behind in the search for a better, more peaceful life.
My heart goes out to anyone, women in particular, who have to flee from violence and leave precious possessions behind. So often it’s ordinary belongings that are priceless. Maybe God will use my appreciation of what they have lost to lead them to the joy of new beginnings.