I enjoy volunteering at my kid’s school. It sometimes means juggling my work schedule, but I’m lucky to have the flexibility required to make that work. The school encourages this kind of parental involvement for a variety of reasons. I like being able to see how my kid behaves out of the house, and it’s good to be able to meet her friends and teachers as well.
There are tense moments. I worry that the good-natured teasing my daughter has gotten used to will somehow traumatize one of her friends (fortunately though it’s far more common that the other kids will laugh at a joke she has long since written off as no longer funny).
There are tense moments, like when I don’t know how to react to another kid because they are not my kid and I’m not sure what the school’s protocol, like when a girl in the group I was watching on a field trip peed her pants.
There are awkward moments too where I worry about what my kid will say. At the Halloween party each group of students needed to count the seeds in our pre-assigned pumpkins. When my daughter heard about the task, she exclaimed proudly, “Oh good! My daddy is an expert in counting things!” I guess I can’t deny that I’ve left a legacy for my children.
There are always funny moments too, but sometimes they border on the profound.
Among the Elsa’s and the ninjas, there was one girl dressed as a hippy. It was an ironically well-assembled outfit. She got a few compliments from the other parents, most of whom were also too young to remember that period of our history. But the most interesting exchange of the day came when another teacher came in, also dressed as a hippy. The young hippy looked up and seemed proud that somebody else liked the idea enough to do it too. Then, as a show of solidarity, the older hippy greeted the younger one, by extending her arm, raising two fingers and exclaiming, “Peace out!”
The look on the little girl’s face made it clear that she had no idea what that phrase meant and why it was supposed to be associated with the clothes she was wearing. I laughed to myself and looked around. The teachers had moved on to another conversation amongst themselves, other parents were busy helping to count their pumpkin’s seeds, and the kids, well the kids had no idea that anything remotely interesting had happened. There was nobody there to share the joke with me.
One of my professional responsibilities as a pastor is to visit seniors. Very often these are people who have already or are needing to downsize their living space. To do this they need to decrease their possessions. Limiting your possessions has always been a spiritual task when it’s done voluntarily, but when it is forced on your, it’s a little tougher to swallow. Their options usually are giving them away, throwing them away or putting them in long-term storage. The preferred option is always to give them away, but that isn’t as easy as it sounds. Usually, if you’ve kept something for most of your life, that thing has intrinsic, sentimental and/or non-financial value to you. The problem is, it might be tough to find anyone who attaches anywhere near the same value to those things that you do, and try as you might you cannot force someone to attach value to something.
The seniors that I visit often have closets full of things that they value that nobody else does. It’s a joke that they can’t share. The next time you visit a thrift store, you will likely see some of those items. That often means that someone has died, and since nobody in the family wanted it, it was redistributed.
We could say that this is evidence that our society values our possessions too highly, but it could also be evidence that we value stories too little. The next time you visit a senior in your family or community, and if you aren’t doing that you should, ask them about their stuff. Their possessions hold their stories.