The Price of a Life

I’ve been driving the same road to work for about five years. It’s a monotonous route, filled with other motorists who seem to need to get to their destination quicker than I do. Sometimes I like to mess with them and settle in beside a driver who has the unmitigated gall to drive at the speed limit and not twenty miles per hour over.

Slow down people – life’s too fast!

New communities are popping up along the road because this is metro Atlanta where we hate greenspace. There was this charming little blue house right next to the road that most likely housed the farmers who originally owned a lot of the now-developed property. It had a covered porch with scrolled lattice trim where I can picture they sat in rocking chairs after a long day in the fields. If you looked behind it, you could even catch a glimpse of the matching outhouse. Then one morning as I drove to work, I noticed that it was gone. I don’t mean it had fallen over… it was gone – like it never existed.

I don’t know anything about the house or its owners, but it made me sad. That house was someone’s home. Lives and memories were contained within its walls. Children were born and raised there, probably generations of them and now someone bought it and erased it in the name of “progress” (whatever that is).

It is gone.

There used to be a home there


I spent the Labor Day Weekend in St. Louis doing a good bit of labor. My parents have moved into a retirement villa and my sister and I had to prepare their house for sale and sort through what remained. This is a good situation where both parents were there and fully able to choose what they wanted to keep and what they wanted to sell. But it was still very strange. After all, this was their collective lives laying on tables for bargain-shoppers to buy for pennies on the dollar.

Certainly we kept those things most sentimental, but so much of the leftovers still brought back memories: books read, bowls filled, tools used, couches crashed on. Each one with its sticker denoting whether it was a $5 item or worth only 50¢. It needed to happen, but it didn’t seem right.

What is the price of a life?

Then, for a moment, you step back. And you realize that this is only stuff. Stuff. It is something and it is nothing. It is not eternal and every item here will be in a landfill someday. What matters isn’t the carved giraffe that my father got in Kenya or my mother’s dress pattern. The important things are the lives they poured into – the people he helped on his African mission trip and the eyes of her granddaughter when she opened the American Girl costume made just for her. My parents poured a great deal and when you consider that, the stuff is worthless but their lives are rich.

They handled all of it very well – probably much better than I will. Someday my kids and grandkids will be going through my stuff. It’s not the best stuff in the world, but I seem to have accumulated a lot of it. I hope and pray when my time comes I may be counted rich not because of the fineries I collected but because of what I gave away.

Just in case, I am hiding several bombs for my kids to stumble upon. On the chance that they will read this, I can’t divulge what or where they are. But they will find some very strange and awkward things that will make them cringe and doubt my sanity even more than they already do… if that is possible.

7 thoughts on “The Price of a Life

  1. This was so great! Both of my grandma’s homes held amazing memories. Both in Seattle near Lake Washington. I’ll never forget when my one grandma moved from her amazing Craftman two story home to a mobile home on Whidbee Island. 🙁 I still Google it and dream of buying it someday in my dreams! 🙄😏 But my other grandma’s home was knocked down to build something else! I could so relate when I read this!

    1. I’m glad. I’m also glad we were able to do it when they could choose. Fortunately for me, this was not the house I grew up in or had ever lived in. The place holds no sentimental value for me and that helped. But there were so many things I remembered. I hope you can get that house.

  2. I am forever enrichened by what you have given away! Wish I could still be around when yours find the special Memorabilia that you have saved for your children. But by then my daughter and her family would have had to have a “send off” to my few collections!

  3. it is really hard to choose what to keep and what to let go, and you are right about pricing, what is precious to one, may be worthless to another.

  4. Mark, you grew up in St. Louis, Missouri?

    It is hard to discard the things of life, collected over our lifetime. We are not quite there yet but nevertheless go through things and are slowly ” letting go “. It is nice your parents are able to work on this together. You are correct it is not the things that enrich our lives but the people whose lives we touch. I am reminded after reading this when my now teenage granddaughter knocked over a tall Santa, that sat in our foyer. She was sad, she broke it. I was worried, she had hurt herself. I assured her Papa could glue the head back on the body. Then, I told her THE SANTA was just a thing. What was important was she did not get cut or that her heart got hurt because it broke. From this conversation, I heard her say many times through the years, when something broke that it didn’t matter, it was just a thing! What matters is not to break anyone’s heart! Lesson learned! Things are just that. The important part of our life is to not break any hearts!

    1. No, my parents moved to St. Louis where my sister lived after I moved south. I grew up in Louisville. Yes, that was a good lesson for her – Things are just things.

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