Every year Abiding Savior Lutheran Church has a Flea Market. Every year, they choose a charitable cause and donate one hundred per cent of the proceeds. Every year, the Flea Market makes much more money than you would think possible. All of that is amazing enough, but not as amazing as this: every year, people have more -- much more -- stuff to donate. Where does it all come from? The miracle of the loaves and fishes could not have been more impressive than this.
Flea Market Week has its own succession of rituals. My favorite is called "The Great Unpacking." Early in the week, volunteers gather to participate in a liturgy of unloading, unpacking, and categorizing mounds of donations. Our Fearless Leader lures in her helpers with promises of free pizza, which is probably how adults motivate their offspring to come along to assist in the proceedings. Our communion is pizza and soda eaten standing up, without plates, in between forages into costume jewelry, books, linens, and knick-knacks.
When mac was in a stroller her job was, apparently,to test out all of the toy donations as soon as they were set up. As she got older, she was a cheerful "gofer" from table to table, then graduated to setting up and curating the stuffed animal display on the piano. Now, at eleven, she unloads bags and boxes, makes judgments on whether an item truly belongs on the Christmas table, and entertains younger children.
Last night I was struck by how many items were ephemeral. Items which had been so "cutting edge" in their day, but now were obsolete, in some cases, unrecognizable. Here were items 'new in package' from the 1960's--a portable clothes line set in plastic, which probably cost 39 cents at the five and ten, saved and never used. A pristine storage container for floppy disks. Shrink-wrapped VHS tapes.
Are we in the process of a Great Unpacking in Columbia? Is this our responsibility in 2012--to go through what we have saved and decide what is worth keeping? We may find things we set aside in the early years that are clean and untouched, and unusable. Irrelevant. Other things, like many of the classic items at the Flea Market, will be a bit worn from love and use, but are worth saving. Ideas which were "made well" and hold up over time.
Like the ASLC volunteers, we may have differing views on the value of what we are finding, and in which category it belongs. We may not even know what we are lugging around from our past, and need to ask for help someone who would know best.
They say the unexamined life is not worth living. Last night I felt that I was examining the bits and pieces of other people's lives, and it made me think. I believe in the sincerity of the effort of going through the baggage of our community life in Columbia. It's not just about getting rid of the old to make room for the new. It is about examining what we have, understanding who we are, and taking the time to cherish what is worth saving.