Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Saturday, February 25, 2017


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter

I wrote this about ten years ago…

THE OLD GRAY BRIEFCASE          Sa 2-25-17

I threw away my old gray briefcase today. I bought it when I was twenty, a college undergrad. I bought it in Chicago, in the summer, while I was working at a settlement house. Briefcases then were all brown. I had never seen a gray one before.

This was in the day before backpacks. Professors and graduate students carried briefcases, but undergrads just carried books and tablets under their arms.

When I returned to campus in the fall, I was an undergrad with a gray briefcase, about as different as one could be in those days. I wanted to be different, to stand out in a way that did not stand out too much.

I had to throw the briefcase away today, after fifty years, because we are downsizing to live in smaller quarters. If it were good quality, I might be able to justify keeping it around. Perhaps my grandson could use it someday, to impress the coeds, by standing out in a way that does not stand out too much. But it was cheap, gray in its soul as well as on its surface, and it is falling apart. If I gave it to Goodwill or The Salvation Army, they would throw it away, too.

It’s still out there, at the curb, on top of the garbage can, waiting for the garbage guys to come. I stand at the kitchen window and look at it, thinking about running out when I hear the garbage truck and grabbing it in the nick of time, saving the memory of the skinny young man and his desire to be different.

That is why we save the things of the past, to save the memories that go with them.

I love the song, Moments to Remember. Al Stillman and Robert Allen wrote it. It’s important to remember the moments when we came alive, when we found out who we were. The objects we keep on the mantle are not all that important. They may be no more useful or beautiful than my old gray briefcase. But those things remind us of those moments.

As old people, so much of our identity is in the past, not in the future. We know who we are because we know who we were. It’s alright to keep the things that stir up the memories, but there comes a time to let those things go, too.

The memories are not gone, though, just because the garbage guys have come. Every time I see a briefcase, regardless of who carries it, that can be a reminder of the young man who carried the gray briefcase, and the good times he had.


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