The things you leave speak about who you were
Take a minute or two and think about what is in your desk, your car, your bedroom and bathroom, and your office. Now think about someone going through all that stuff of yours. Is there anything you don’t want seen? What will someone think when they see it?
I came to the topic for this week’s column because of the death of a colleague. The man was a long-time professor of philosophy and humanities who believed in what he taught as well as the people he taught. Not bad for a career choice.
Like most professors, the man had an office that he had occupied for a number of years. He kept his books, records, and minutiae of his professional life in that office. One day he turned off the lights and locked the door to that office on his way home. He never returned, passing away the next day.
The evidence we leave
People, family and representatives from the school, had to go through the desk drawers, the filing cabinets, and the bookshelves. They had to go through everything. Some things stayed with the university, some were taken home.
I don’t know but I would imagine that they donated some of his books to the university library. Families often do that when professors pass on. Some will probably go to various family members and the rest will go on a shelf at home or be donated to one or two charitable organizations.
So, for this little “play the evidence” game, imagine that if you never walked into your office or house again, what would be found? What would be found in your wallet? Your bedside table? Your car? Your desk? I’m not sure, but I think that the things we leave behind, the things we leave because we had no warning or choice in the matter, will probably speak volumes about us.
The things we leave behind
1) Keys (those that fit something and those that no longer do – and haven’t for years)
2) Wallet – what is in your wallet right now? An old love note? A faded picture? Credit card receipts? Phone numbers? Directions to a forgotten place? Pictures? Business cards?
3) Books – what books are you leaving? Are they trashy novels? Good novels? Biographies? Travel books? What did you read and what is the evidence of it? Or, perhaps the worst thing, aren’t you leaving any books at all?
4) Toiletries – what is in your bathroom cabinet, drawer, or shelf? A particular cologne or perfume? A deodorant? Does the toothpaste tube still have the imprint from your fingers? How about medicines? What medicines will have to be tossed now that they’re no longer needed?
5) Clothes – what clothes do you have hanging in your closet or folded in your dresser? Do you have anything decades out of date? Any old disco clothes? Any old double-knit? What’s in there that when someone sees it will make them instantly think of you? Is anything there that smells slightly of your scent? Does the person removing the clothes gingerly touch them and remember the last time they were worn? Does it bring a tear?
6) Car – what does your car have in it right now? What is in the trunk or the glove compartment? What will the things say about where you drove last? What do the gas receipts reveal? Will the car immediately be sold or kept? Who will drive it?
7) Look around. See anything with your writing on it? Any notes? Shopping lists? Old cards you’ve saved? What has your handwriting on it, your signature? Our handwriting can say a great deal about us – what does yours say about you? Were you methodical? Were you always in a hurry? Were you just sloppy?
8) Food or drinks – what’s in the house that you particularly liked to eat or drink? Is there something that, when someone tastes it, will make them immediately think of you?
9) Your special things – these can be anything: your golf clubs or basketball, your hobby things, your musical instrument, your CDs, your things from childhood you still drag around with you (have any old trophies, yearbooks, models or dolls?), your tools, and your briefcase. In other words, these are all the things that simply say “you” without ever saying a word.
10) Memories – what are the memories you leave with those who came in contact with you? Are they happy memories? Sad ones? When people think of you do they do so with a smile or a frown? Hint – if they remember you with a frown it may be time to rethink your life and how you live it. I can’t imagine anything worse than a life so lived that, when it was over, only bad memories were left.
So there are but a few of the many things we may leave behind after we depart this world. What else is there that retains a bit of you? It’s possible that our worldly end can come so quickly, without any warning, that when it actually happens we are unprepared. More than that, our friends and family are also unprepared.
If there is one thing you can take away from this essay it should probably be this: don’t leave a mess, don’t leave something that just brings sadness. Help people smile when they remember you, because they will. Wouldn’t you rather they have good memories than bad ones? Walk softly and let your imprint be good.