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What We Leave Behind


Periodically my mom will give me some mementos, heirlooms, documents and photographs of our family history. I've enjoyed receiving them, though with more than a pinch of wistfulness included. The handing-down of treasured familial possessions is always a bit of rite of passage, a quiet signifier of aging and our own mortality. The keepsakes are wanted, yet there is almost the urge to reject what their receipt symbolizes.

It occurred to me that there is another, even more personal, reason that I grow rueful whenever the subject of fondly-held items arises. I have no children to leave anything to. Now, admittedly, that is perhaps the most selfish reason to have a child, but then it can be argued that people have children for a variety of reasons. Some wish to carry-on their lineage, others want another human to love and care for. A few didn't expect to have a child, and are making their best go of it. So on and so forth.

I have never really wanted children. Sure, there was a time, back in high school, when I was fighting against my sexuality and envisioned an adult life with a wife, kids (note the plural) and a home with a white picket fence. Maybe a pet or two. Fantasy life aside, things have turned out pretty well, but a lot of self-analysis has revealed that kids just aren't in the cards. I'm too selfish with my time, space, and money to seriously consider parenthood. Plus, there simply isn't that innate desire to be a parent. The thought has crossed my mind a time or two, then eventually receded.

Arriving at the realization that, once my husband and I perish from this earth (hopefully still many years from now), there will be no one around to care very much about what happens to our possessions has left me somewhat dismayed. Of course, 90% of our possessions I ultimately couldn't care less about: our cars, television set, furniture, etc. That is all expendable. I'm talking about stuff like the short stories and novel that I wrote starting at age 8. They've survived every move I've made, and reside in a place of security in our home. Then there's items we've bought as a couple, things of sentimental value. Ashley's self-published book of haiku, etc.

We tend to eventually give our most precious possessions to our children because, well, they're our children. It's pretty much expected. They are the receptacles of our existence. What is and was important to us, it is proposed, should be important to them. We will live-on through them, either biologically, emotionally, via our possessions, or all of the above. That seems to be the standard practice in our world, and has been for millennia. Unless, of course, you have no children.

I don't know what will happen to my creative writing collection, or Ashley's book of haiku, or the personal items that we cherish, once we're gone. It feels weird to ask friends to look after them. They do not hold the same obligation as children. More than just our things, however, is the slight sense of failure I feel regarding the family items mom has already given me. I will have no one to give them to when the time comes. When we hand things down it is with a sense of forever, but of course nothing is forever, is it?


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