10 Tishri, 5778 – September 30, 2017
Sally and I are in the midst of deciding what to do with her grandparent’s bedroom set, one which her grandparents had from their wedding night through their eightieth wedding anniversary. It is a lovely old maple double bed with a high boy dresser and night table. It is in very good condition. This is not a “for sale” ad because we have not yet made a decision as to what we’d like to do with it. Given the recent birth of our granddaughter Eden, we want to turn that bedroom into Eden’s room. There is no place for the set in our house. Our children do not have a place for it and, even if they did, it is not their taste. Sally said she is no longer emotionally attached to the set. So what do we do with the furniture?
It seems this is a quandary not only for us but for almost everyone in our generation and older. “As baby boomers grow older, the volume of unwanted keepsakes and family heirlooms is poised to grow. By 2030, 20% of America’s population will be 65 or older. As these older adults begin to downsize, they and their kin will have to part with household possessions the heirs simply don’t want.”[i] We are a generation that registered for china and silver before we were married and expected, after much use, to pass it on to our children, as our parents passed on their precious possessions to us. “For a variety of social, cultural, and economic reasons, this is no longer the case. Today’s young adults tend to acquire household goods that they consider temporary or disposable instead of inheriting them from parents or grandparents. This is the first time in American history that there is a break in the chain of inheritance from one generation to the next.”[ii]
Once the children have picked over what they want and the items selected for the smaller home have been boxed up, what happens to the rest? Some goes to auction, some is given to non-profits, and some pieces just end up on the curb to be taken by a passerby. A lot of stuff goes into self-storage units. By the way, while I am not an investment advisor, the self-storage industry is projected to grow by 3-5% a year over the next five years as more and more of us cannot bear to part with our material goods.
So what is really important about these pieces? If they are quite valuable, there is an obvious material consideration. What we prize the most, however, is our emotional connection to our furniture, books, jewelry, and china. They may have belonged to a grandparent or a cherished aunt. A particular piece may cause us to recall our youth or a sweet moment in our lives. Sally, for example, has the Rosenthal china her father bought when he was in the military in Germany. We have her grandmother’s silver as well as her grandparent’s bedroom set. We have a bookcase that belonged to my father filled with the precious books he accumulated when he was young. All of these books are now available on line. I find it much easier to read on an electronic device than read a book, so why do I keep them? The answer is simple…they evoke the memory of my father. Memories are attached to all of these items. That is why they are truly important.
At some point we will have to rid ourselves of these things. We will, however, carry the memories of our beloved grandparents and parents with us until our last breaths. The love and sweetness they conjure will never go away. That, dear friends, is why we are here today. We remember those whom we have loved and lost. We wish they were with us today but, alas, we know that cannot be. One generation comes as another goes. That is the way of life. We, though, do not forget.
What is truly important are not the material things we pass on to the next generation but the love and values that we share with them. All we leave behind is for naught except for that. Just take a moment and think of three adjectives you would like said of you in your eulogy. Were you loving, kind and empathic? Were you honest, hardworking, and charitable? Did you care about your community? Did you make a positive contribution to the Jewish people? What kind of reputation will you leave behind for your children and grandchildren?
On this holiest of days, as the gates of heaven are still open to our prayers, let us recognize that the essential gifts we leave on to the next generations are not material, but emotional. After all, if we didn’t love our grandparents, their furniture would mean very little to us. If I did not love my father, what would his books mean to me? What is most crucial is the love we pass on to our children and grandchildren. As we struggle over the disposition of our material goods, let us remember what is of ultimate importance. Let us love more- because that is what we leave behind.
Amen and G’mar Chatima Tova
[i] NY Times, August 18, 2017