I reviewed someone’s life today. It was in a box. The old department store kind. A fancy one you got when shopping on main street in the 1950’s. Maybe it held a new fedora hat once, but it is old now. Faded and musty. And now it holds evidence that Merrill Arthur Sischo III was born and raised in Wausau, WI where he did many things in his young life.
I could tell the box and its collected contents was started by someone who loved him. Maybe he added to it. Probably not. I imagine that person handing it over to a busy young man, when his youth was fading and his adult years were in full swing. “I’m cleaning out the house. Here’s your memory box.” He placed it in the basement at 720 Baltzell St. And there it sat. Life happened. Jobs and babies and promotions. Canoe trips and projects. Failures and triumphs. It all flowed by—off into the past until his mind was made quiet by disease and he faded away.
But the box remained. Until his wife and daughter did their own cleaning project, organizing and throwing out the flotsam of life that accumulates in a basement over 40 years.
And now that box sits on my kitchen table. The last stop before the garbage bin. For some reason, I feel the strong need to review it even though my wife already has too. To touch each and every item. One last time. Maybe out of respect for him, or the person who saved everything in it for him.
And so I did. Inside were yellow newspaper clippings. Letters. Birthday and graduation cards. And lots of curled up pictures in black and white developed at the pharmacy downtown on 5th street. The month and date etched on the borders. A trip to Alaska. Boy scouts. Sitting on the hood of an old Chevy. Camping trips with the guys. Honor roll. A high school dance. A smiling couple. A medal. The arc of a young life so full of energy and accomplishment and fun. An ever-expanding set of experiences and growth that I could touch and feel.
All of it happened. And now, in less than 30 minutes it was done.
I shut the box. No one will review it again. Soon I will take it out to the trash. Its final fate is to be crushed down into a thin layer of unrecognizable detritus. Part of the fossilized record. The realm of archeologists.
The finality of it makes me sad. All of it is now gone – faded into obscurity. A return to nothingness that awaits all of us regardless of how much of it we try to capture and collect as life streams by. Is this ultimately what a life is worth?
Ugh. It sits like a pit in my stomach. Until I remind myself . . .
His life, any life, is more than a box of stuff subject to the laws of natural decay.
Maybe it is enough that someone loved him enough to fill it. And that that love and the experiences that I just glimpsed made him the person he became – the person that raised my wife and helped her become the person she is today. Maybe the stuff in that box is a part of her and my kids. And me.
That’s what I remind myself as I throw the physical contents away. All of it is still with us. Living on.
All of us will live on.