The challenge in sorting through my mother’s possessions after she died was not because her possessions were so numerous. There was, of course, the grief that colored the process. But it was also difficult because mixed among the clothing, dishes, furniture, and a few pieces of gold jewelry, were items that seemed to me to be worthless trinkets or even trash. A photo of someone I did not recognize, a wall hanging, a receipt, a ticket stub, a matchbook, a brief note. While I certainly knew a great deal about my mother, I did not know everything. I am certain that some of these items were not just the inconsequential leftovers of a life. Rather, for her they had great significance. Sadly, with her passing what made these things her treasures is lost to me.
A friend of mine went to the bank following his parent’s death to retrieve the contents of their safe deposit box. His parents paid a monthly fee to keep secure in a vault certain prized possessions. When the box was opened my friend was surprised to discover that it held few items of any financial importance. What he did find were several pictures he had colored as a small child, and other mementos of his boyhood. These were his parent’s prized possessions.
An autographed baseball in a plastic case sits in a prominent place on top of a bookshelf in my office. When I was a boy I loved baseball. My hero was Detroit Tiger outfielder, Al Kaline. When I played little league baseball I asked to wear number six on my jersey because I wanted to share Kaline’s number. A few years ago, I fulfilled a lifelong desire to attend Tiger spring training in Lakeland, Florida. My youngest son accompanied me on this trip. While I was eating lunch with a friend at a restaurant near Joker Marchant Stadium where the Tigers played, my son stayed behind hoping to meet a player or two and get an autograph. After lunch, he told me that while I was gone he saw a crowd gathered around “some old guy.” He thought the guy might be someone important. Then he gave me a baseball signed by Hall of Famer, Al Kaline. I cherish that ball as one of my prized possessions – but not so much because of Al Kaline. I cherish my son and the memory.
James B. Gough was a well-known temperance lecturer and revivalist in the middle 19th century. A reformed drunkard, he lectured widely, eloquently, and effectively on the dangers of intoxicating drink. At his funeral, a small wooden chair was placed near the head of his casket. Spread over the back of the chair was a simple white handkerchief. It was presented to Gough’s wife many years before by a woman who was married to a man who was once an abusive alcoholic.
“I have over and over again saturated that handkerchief with my tears.” the woman testified. “But since my husband met yours, our home has become a little heaven on earth.”
Gough often held out the handkerchief and told the story as he challenged crowds to “take the pledge.” He referred to this small piece of cloth as a trophy. He cherished it as one of his prized possessions.
When we come to the end of a long life we may find that our prized possessions are not the things that cost the most money or have the most intrinsic value. Instead, they are things that are simple expressions of love, or symbols of the positive influence we have made in the lives of others. In fact, our most prized possessions really should not be material objects at all. Our true treasures should be a godly testimony, a loving influence, an answered prayer. We should cherish things that extend beyond this life. After all, Jesus told us to lay up our prized possessions in heaven. There moth and rust do not corrupt, thieves do not break through and steal, and no handkerchiefs are ever needed to wipe away tears.