Bits and Bites of Everyday Life

 

All kinds of goodbyes

Good, bad or indifferent, we cannot but have a relationship with the objects we possess. We are after all material beings!

By Geneviève Hone
True North Perspective

Geneviève Hone is a grandmother, family therapist and social worker.  With her husband, Julien Mercure (also a family therapist), she has co-authored three books on couples and family life. Her home on the web is www.hone-mercure.com/index_hone_en.php.

“And where are you off to this morning?” asks my husband as he sees me assemble what has become this summer’s walking kit which includes mainly the necessary “sunfighters”: hat, glasses, 30 SPF lotion, bottle of water, etc.
 
“Oh just the usual, around the neighbourhood and park”, I reply.
 
Truth be told, I’m reluctant to put down even for a short time the fascinating and humorous book by philosopher Mark Kingwell that I’ve been reading for the past two hours*. In a chapter entitled “Tables, Chairs, and Other Machines for Thinking”, Kingwell deplores the absence of a “philosophy of furniture”. After all, he remarks, most philosophers “spend at least as much time sitting and lying and lounging as the rest of the populace – maybe more so when it comes to lying and lounging, actually.”
 
However I am in danger of becoming too much of an armchair philosopher at this point and my bones and muscles will one day punish me if I don’t take leave of my furniture and go walking. But just to be safe, I bring the book and my reading glasses. One never knows: a lovely park bench under a large tree might extend an invitation to sit down and reflect upon one’s life, aided by a great book.
 
I walk up and down familiar streets, enjoying the gift of flowers in full bloom in front gardens and window boxes. I spot unusual activity by a lovely old house: quite a few cars parked nearby and people in small groups on the front lawn.
 
 
  Image by Julien Mercure.

Coming closer I see the sign: “Moving out sale. Welcome.”

Suddenly I remember a friend mentioning that an old aunt of hers from this neighborhood is moving to a senior’s residence now that she has trouble climbing stairs and cooking a proper meal. I inquire if this is the home of Madame L., my friend’s aunt. It is.
 
I’m invited inside by the helpers. “There’s loads of furniture, books, artwork, kitchen stuff: everything has to go.” Everything is well organized, objects carefully displayed and labelled, prices clearly indicated. Most of the people wandering through the house seem sensitive to what it may mean for the owner to part with cherished objects. They take the time to ask gentle questions and to acknowledge the quality of the furniture and artwork. A few others, though, go for a kill so to speak: “I can take this off your hands for $120.00”, talking of a beautiful antique table already marked down to the very reasonable price of $600.00.
 
I reflect that the prospective buyers are here to acquire objects. Madame L., however, is letting go not only of these objects, but also of the relationship she has with them.
 
The relationship may have been a happy one: “This was given to me by my dear brother just before he passed away” or a less happy one: “I never really liked this vase, but my mother-in-law who gave it to me would have been greatly offended if I hadn’t displayed it on the mantel.” Or perhaps the relationship was an indifferent one: “These I bought on sale years ago and they are totally worn out, but I can easily replace them.” Good, bad or indifferent, we cannot but have a relationship with the objects we possess. We are after all material beings!
 
My friend’s aunt appears in her living room. I introduce myself and ask how she is doing. “Oh, I’m all right” she answers. “I can’t bring this stuff with me and nobody in my family wants these old things anyway.”
 
The lady says this calmly and reasonably, perhaps too reasonably. As she speaks, her eyes wander around the room as if to take picture after picture of all the objects that they will never see again. Mrs. L. keeps glancing at a small painting hung next to a large theatre poster.
 
She explains that this small watercolor was bought long ago in London where her diplomat husband had been posted for a few years. Despite the $20.00 tag, the tableau painted in Victorian times is actually quite valuable, she adds. The gentle tones depict a country scene: a farm house, trees, and in the yard, a washerwoman, hands plunged in a barrel of water. A glimpse of life and work in an ordinary household, on an ordinary day in 1875.
 
The buyer will be purchasing a pretty little painting, perhaps for a nook in a newly renovated dining room and for him or her, this will be a simple transaction. It may be a more complex one for Madame L. She may find it quite tolerable to detach herself from the painting as such: this is what she wants, after all. But how will she let go of the relationship she’s had with this object? Will she be able to keep the memories of happiness in London? Or will the discolored rectangle left on the living room wall remind her only of loves now extinct? What will she be able to salvage from the relationship with her painting once it’s gone?
 
I say goodbye to Madame L. and start walking towards the park. But half a block later, I turn and head back to her home. I pull out the twenty dollar bill I keep in my pocket for such contingencies and inform a helper that I wish to purchase the little painting. She gets it for me and almost reluctantly hands it to me. I walk with the painting under my arm, asking myself why I bought it. I’m not an impulse buyer, I don’t need this object. Why did I adopt it? I arrive at the park, find a welcoming bench and lean the painting on the back of the bench so the washerwoman of yesteryear can look up to catch a glimpse of an ordinary day in an ordinary city park, today.
 
I sit next to the painting, pick up my book where I have left off and read: “For despite centuries of effort to make philosophy dead from the neck down, we are still embodied creatures with limbs and frames requiring support.”
 
I chuckle. Yes, especially as I get older, I definitely need the support of a good armchair and an excellent mattress as well as that of my friends and family! But I also need the support of objects of beauty that remind me of my connection with people from long ago and from all over the world. I will never know the author of my small watercolor, I will never even know if the washerwoman he or she depicted existed in “reality”, but no matter. I do feel a connection with them, and that is the true value of my new old painting, a gift to myself.
_____

* Mark Kingwell, Practical Judgments, Essays in Culture, Politics, and Interpretation, University of Toronto Press, 2002.

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