The things that last

The things that last
Photo by Hunter Haley / Unsplash

When I was a boy I used to love to watch my father work around the house on the weekends.  He was always a handy sort of guy.  When I was very small, he was ground crew for Eastern Airlines in Atlanta.  After a massive heart attack or two rendered him unable to work and once he had completed a rather long period of recovery, he busied himself with the sorts of things any self-reliant and capable man might take up to occupy his time.  This increase in time spent working around the house suited me just fine.  My dad seemed to truly enjoy having me around as he worked and I soaked up every bit of knowledge and wisdom he put out.  He eventually took to accompanying my mother on her job, one she took up when he was laid low, and continued assisting with that right up to a few years before his death in 2013.  For a few years though, he was home a lot and I will always cherish those times.

Back then, he would sometimes catch me acting somewhat dismissively with something - banging a tool around too hard or breaking a toy for no good reason - and he'd look me square in the eye and say "you know, things last a lot longer if you take care of them".  I would hear disappointment in his words and modify my behavior for a little while but they didn't really sink in back then.  They didn't matter in quite the way he wanted them to.  I see in my own children the haze of non-understanding when I find myself parroting those words to them now.  Still, I come back to my father's words more and more as I age...

"Things last a lot longer if you take care of them."

I don't know whether my father internalized those words the way I now do... I can't know, because of the cancer that finally stilled the monolithic spirit he contained, but I like to think he did.  I chose to believe he wasn't just trying to get me to see that the stuff in my life would last longer if I took care of it; he was trying to help me realize that all things would.  The items of possession that each of us accumulate in a lifetime can be cared for in such a way as to reduce their degradation over time, sure, but so could other things.  Resolve, patience, integrity, love, affection, you name it.  All of it can be made to last longer by nurturing and protecting it.  By the same processes, that which harms us in life can also be made to last longer through effort.  Want more suffering?  Add anger into your relationships.  Sprinkle in some good old-fashioned neglect.  Ignore your loved ones in favor of what should be minor pursuits and you'll make an investment in pain that one day not-too-removed from now will return dividends in agony.  Don't waste your limited life by adding hurt and pain to the world around you.  Be instead a clarifying agent that lessens the sorrows of life, for yourself and for others.

Today's society of throw away things and throw away commitments has no room for my father's wise words of old, but that's just the template.  If you choose to accept the pattern that's presented to you, then the pattern of throw away and shallow neglect is what you will receive.  Dare to be different.  Take care of the things, the people with whom you share them, the relationships and commitments you make, and the meanings and purposes of your life and they - all of them - will last a lot longer.