Today was trash day in our little neighborhood, and the house across the street was discarding an old stand-alone pantry. My husband and I debating briefly about bringing it in. He sees the potential in anything made of wood, and all I see is something else to clutter up my home. I continue to aspire to minimalism, unsuccessfully. However, once he brought it inside, even I could see the beauty in the 100 year old piece of furniture. It had been poorly stained, and was filthy, but a little love could easily make it beautiful and functional again. Even the kids got excited, and grabbed rags to start cleaning a half century of dirt and grime off the real oak. Teddy mostly sees the pantry as an awesome potential hiding place, and tested it out eagerly.
When Sophia was a preschooler, her favorite movie was Sesame Street DVD called “Imagine That.” In in, the children are stuck inside during a rainy day and play imagination games, and build things out of recycling. It inspired her to build her many creations out of recycling over the years, and we often quote the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” I occasionally turn my old sweaters into sweater dresses for her, and she seems to like their rough, homemade look. We up-cycle free wooden wine crates from the liquor store to store homeschool supplies, and toys.
My dad is a self described, “Junk Man”, never able to pass up a good deal or something that could be useful later. As a child I was drug to antique stores, auctions, and garage sales. As an adult, I occasionally like to look, but rarely do I buy.
However, there is something really interesting and beautiful about the idea that something that is someone else trash can be transformed into a treasure for someone new. The idea of Redemption and Transformation exist in almost all religions in the world, testifying to the universal human need to believe we can change, grow, and transcend our limitations.
In Christianity, Jesus redeems us through his death and resurrection. In Buddhism, self transformation is a fundamental goal. A foundational belief of America is the idea that birth and social status don’t matter, anyone can succeed through the values of hard work.
Hannah Arendt has a similar idea of Natality, that each day is a new day, and a new beginning; each beginning creates a new beginner. Arendt argues that we are all originally shaped by the circumstances of our birth, community, and family. I say there is always the possibility for re-creation. Our new pantry will always be made of oak, but we can change the color, even the way that we use it. Being a girl from a farm in Nebraska is a part of my story that can never change, only be added to as I grow and change.
Time and interpretation change the meaning and value of art as well. Rembrandt’s painting, “The Militia of Captain Frans Banning Cocq,” know as “The Night Watch” ruined his portraiture career and was a scandal at the time. Today, it is considered one of the masterpieces of the world, painted by the greater painter ever from Holland.
So, as we reclaim our little piece of neighborhood history, I can’t help but wonder about its story. Was it perhaps a wedding gift 100 years ago? How many families has it seen?Was it owned by someone famous or historic here in Boston? What does the future hold for it now that it’s been saved from the landfill?
More importantly, how can we chose to reinvent ourselves over the course of our individual lives…I’ve chosen to write a blog, not knowing where it will go or what it will become. I try not to be afraid of the possibility of change, and transformation in myself and others. As a wise friend once told me while I gripped a dream outgrown, “It’s okay to change your mind.”
How have you changed your mind or life in unanticipated ways? Did you initially resist changing?