More than any other season, fall traditionally sends me on a hunt for two or three new items to flesh out the wardrobe for a change in weather. Summer clothes are notoriously short-lived, but winter clothes seem to last forever and just a few additions can revitalize the woolen wear and turtlenecks.
This year, I'm searching for a pair of riding boots, not because I ride, but because they look good with skinny jeans stuffed inside. They've got to be just the right shade of brown, flat and a little polished-looking, nothing like what you really might wear inside a stable, of course. Fashion is premised on creating illusion, you know.
However, the same could also be said about the homes we choose, the cars we buy or the possessions we collect. Those choices send statements to the "world" about who we think we are, based on perceptions that may be totally erroneous, if the truth about each of us could be known absolutely. Truth isn't necessarily as the world sees it.
A home in the perceived "right" part of town or the development with the most amenities is much sought after for what it conveys about the owner's ability to provide for his or her family. (In today's market, however, few are able to "move up" to better housing because we can't buy if we can't sell.) Certain vehicles say, "I'm a success or "a man of means." Certain cars - such as gas-sipping models, not gas-guzzling monsters - convey philosophical priorities. A bike is even better at expressing one's sensibilities. Guys' trucks absolutely tickle me. The more jacked-up they are, the bigger the tires, the louder they sound and the more bells and whistles, the tougher and "badder" those drivers think themselves to be. Keeping up with the latest fashion trends says. "I'm in the know." We choose and use "things" to define us to ourselves and to the world.
It is, in the Big Picture, a strange choice we make, because in the end, things are only things. From high-style boots to fancy cars, they are man-made and meant to pass away. Houses can burn, be flooded out or lost in this economy. Cars can be wrecked or damaged beyond use or ultimately just quit. Obsolescence is built into manufactured goods, these days, and I've had the repairmen for my kitchen appliances who know their way here instinctively tell me just that. Possessions, from computers to flat-screen televisions, cameras and jewelry, can be stolen. Far too often, we seem to live by the well-worn adage, "He who has the most toys in the end, wins."
The truth is that we own nothing forever. And do we really "own" our things in the first place? Is it not better to understand that "things" are only gifts to us for a short time?
Those "things" that truly define us, in my opinion, are the things that cannot be touched, held, stored, bought or returned to sender. "They" are, instead, our thoughts, words and deeds, our beliefs, passions and philosophies, our compassion, our charity, our loves. They are revealed in how we approach the world and our neighbors, whether they are next door or across the ocean. They are revealed in the care we take with our own bodies, surely a short-term gift; our families, friends and pets; the Earth and its resources that are increasingly strained to provide for a greedy and acquisitive human race; the needs of those who suffer and are less able. They are revealed in where we take our spiritual sustenance and by what our faith moves us to do with it. They are revealed in where we direct our disposable time, that remaining when not engaged in necessary and productive work. They are revealed in what we hope for and what we commit to. They are revealed in what we model for the next generation, what gifts we leave to them, what we teach them.
Consider a lesson from a board-building exercise in which members of the Friends of Newton Parks board of directors participated. (FONP supports Chimney Park, behind the Newton County Library.) "In 25 words or less, state the reason Chimney Park exists." And: "Imagine, 25 years from now, Chimney Park has closed. Write an obituary article for the park. Recap what made it special, list its achievements and describe why the community will miss it."
What if we had to answer both sentences in regard to ourselves: "State the reason (your name) exists." And: "Imagine 25 years from now, (your name) has passed away. Recap what made him/her special, list his/her achievements, and describe why the community will miss him/her." Teacher says you've got 30 minutes to complete the written assignment - or 80 years or so to live it.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She chairs the Newton Advisory Committee.