We live in a disposable age and our mindset has kept pace.
It seems to me that nobody plays for keeps anymore. This is much deeper than opting for plastic and paper diapers over cloth, and using paper towels instead of napkins. Even big-ticket items appear to be acquired with the intention of “trading up” in a relatively short period of time. From clothes, to cars, even to houses—there’s always something newer and better coming along, and the old stuff gets kicked to the curb. This attitude is applied to marriages, evidently. But somehow major appliances have been skipped over. It’s not unusual to hear about someone who just bought a new car, but whose washer is ten years old.
In Anne Tyler’s Saint Maybe, the main character, Ian, studies under a master furniture maker. His reason, he says, is that he wants to build things that people don’t throw away. As part of his plan to set aright a terrible tragedy, he raises three orphans that would otherwise have been “thrown away.” Entirely too many children are being treated as disposables. We are reaping the harvest from that sowing, as the children who grew up feeling disposable know nothing other than that enter into relationships that themselves become disposable. As with material possessions, when the relationships evidence flaws, the participants move on to others.
The deep sadness of this trend is not just the rising divorce rate. Deep, abiding, once-in-a-lifetime friendships are becoming not-in-a-lifetime events, as fewer people can be bothered to put the effort into them. Genuine relationships take time, effort, commitment, selflessness, and a willingness to be vulnerable to emotional pain. All of these things are in short supply.
We came into this world with no clothing; no food in our bellies, no pennies in our pockets. We will leave in much the same condition. Precious little of our earthly gatherings will accompany us into the next phase of our existence. Nothing of material substance will have any significance for us when we make our exit. As we transit from this phase to the next, we will have no use for degrees from universities—but the knowledge we gained from the pursuit of the degrees will remain a part of us. We will not take a car or a house into our grave. But our relationships will be a part of our being eternally.
Why do we spend so much time and effort chasing after those things we will leave behind when we die, and so little time and effort building those things we CAN take with us?