Deep down, we all have an unspoken fear of living an inconsequential life. We want to know that we have been seen, and that our voices have been heard. We want to believe that our lives matter and that the world is better off because we have been a part of it.
The things that we own, the things we buy and use daily and especially the things we treasure, tell a story about who we are and what we value. The artifacts of our daily lives are unintended parts of our legacy.
Each year on December 4th, my mother’s birthday, I find myself decorating for Christmas. My mother died several years ago, but as I unwrap my Christmas things, I can’t help thinking of her. Most of my decorations were gifts from my mother, starting with ornaments she collected for us since childhood, followed by the Santas and snowmen she gave us for our very first home. Her touch is everywhere that Christmas is in my home.
We like to joke that my mother kept Hallmark in business. Every child, and eventually every grandchild, received an ornament every year. If you got a new dog, a look alike ornament was bound to show up in your Christmas box that December. Learning to ice skate? Let there be skates. Our hobbies, interests, life moments and new chapters all became immortalized in Polyresin and plastic.
I smile every time I pick up the “Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” ornament which I received as a newlywed. It was a cheeky nod to my husband’s family of sixteen children. When we rescued an antique claw foot tub from my cousin’s horse pasture, dragged it home and resurrected it for our huge old house, a teeny mouse in a claw foot tub ornament appeared. Though my ornaments are a bit like children, and it is hard to have favorites, it’s my favorite. I have entire collection of tiny book ornaments; I was always the reader in the family. I see the tiny wooden shoes she bought on vacation, a reminder of our Dutch heritage and our shared interest in genealogy.
My mother died, very unexpectedly, while she was away from home in Florida. At her funeral, we released doves. When I saw the Hallmark ornament that year I cried. Named Always Remembered, It was a white porcelain sand dollar with a tiny dove attached. It is engraved with the words Those We Love Never Truly Leave Us. My mother loved white ornaments because they show up nicely against the green tree. It couldn’t have been more perfect if she had designed it for herself. I bought ornaments for myself, my daughters, my aunt and my niece. I hope that someday they remember that their ornaments have a story to tell.
For many people, an ornament collection is just a box of decorations. For me, ornaments are a part of my history, my family and a representation of my life story. If our things represent our values, what do these tiny heirlooms say about my mother? At first glance, you might think they are the trappings of a woman who loved Christmas, and you would not be wrong. What is more hidden, but clearly obvious to me as I look through my treasures, is that these were the gifts of someone who knew me very, very well.
Part of my mother’s legacy is the Christmas decorations, but the deeper legacy is how deeply she knew us. She knew us not just as her family, but as individuals, our likes and dislikes, where we were in our lives at any moment in time, and what was really important to us.
It is a gift to know and understand someone well. It is a sign of listening, of caring, of attention, and ultimately, of love. In the age of social media where we can quickly “like” something with little thought or knowledge, true attention is rare. We all want to be seen and heard. We crave acknowledgment from someone who understands us and believes we matter.
It might seem like a simple thing, but it is among the highest expressions of love. If you want to live a life that matters, really pay attention to someone.
Because, if you really know someone, deep down to their core, you will never live an inconsequential life.