Looking at Things…Differently

“It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau

Dirty gas tanker or a canvas for silliness?


Old post-it note or a canvas for an anonymous happy greeting?


Old fashioned duct work or a cheery tin man face?


Lamp post or a platform for encouragement?


Negative space or an opportunity to fill the air with fun?


These were all random sightings from my day.

The past several days have included a death and funeral in our family, in addition to a nasty cold that’s laid me up. It’s all kind of sucked. I took these quirky sightings as reassuring signs that things are returning to normal. I’m starting to look around again.

But lately I’ve been thinking about the things we look at versus the things we see in the context of our stuff.

The death in our family has left behind a vacant house. And from the curb, that’s what people look at: a little brick ranch house with a bay window, wrought iron trim, a hand-crafted metal house number plaque in the shape of a dog, and an enormous sweet gum tree shading the front yard.

But I see my upbringing. My childhood. Unwavering stability. I see decades of Christmas traditions surrounded by family. Adults at the big table, kids at the card tables — with the number of adults slowly diminishing over time. I see a dated kitchen with relish trays from which I shamelessly stole black and green olives before the spaghetti dinners that made me turn up my nose. I see piles of sweet gum balls in the front yard that I’d raked — and the quarters that my grampa paid me for my efforts. In the yard’s house number plaque, I see my dad’s handiwork. A craft project that became as much a part of the property as the house itself. I see a large living room that accommodated countless sleepovers for tennis-playing teenagers crashed in sleeping bags on the floor during tennis trips. I see the chair that supported my napping grampa, sitting up, chin to chest, wrapped in his red sweater. I see a crystal dish with strange, ribbon-shaped hard candy with a shelf life that seemed to defy logic. I see all of this and so much more.

But now the soul is gone from the house — and my family is forced to look at it differently than any of us have before. Suddenly, things have become just that — things. Property to divide, distribute, and get rid of. Arguably the most significant chapter in my family’s history has come to a close. And it hurts. Most of us don’t even want the house’s stuff — just the items that hold memories and sentimental value.

But we’ll take the few material treasures that we do get from this chapter and start a new chapter, bringing with us memories, stories, values, gratitude, and a foundation of love.

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