Friday, November 30, 2012

Finding Gems in Our Junk

I think the fascination started with Antiques Roadshow on PBS.

Old items often seem like junk and were picked up at garage sales, inheritances, or just sitting somewhere in the house for decades, are brought to appraisers to find out more about the item. The items authenticity, historicity and value are determined.

I remember watching with my parents as we'd learn little bits of history with each piece, then at least once per show shake our heads in amazement at the newly discovered, ridiculously high value of the piece.

Now, shows like American Pickers, Baggage Battles, Pawn Stars, Toy Hunter, and however many more shows captivate the viewer by following people sorting through junk, antiques, storage units, automobiles, toy or sports collections, to find that rare valuable or historical item that they can flip for a profit. In fact, we see this too with who knows how many shows dedicated to the fixing up of older, run-down homes, to flip and sell for a profit, or at least help the family in the home increase their house value.

I definitely can get sucked into some of these shows, particularly ones like American Pickers, which you never know what aspect of Americana might be illuminated from American history. But even in liking these shows, I think we find a fundamental element of how our culture views "things" these days. We need to see the profit, the pot-of-gold that these few people have found in the midst of seeming junk, don't we? 

It isn't just about finding some really cool old relic with lots of history. 

It is about finding a really cool old relic with lots of history that can be turned for a profit, that it is worth something.

Sure, it is nice to know that some of the stuff we own is valuable in monetary terms, but how much more is the sentimental value, the historical, aesthetic, artistic, or even arbitrary value that the items have. For instance, several years ago I bought an autographed football with signatures from West Point's three Heisman Trophy winners. Yes, it cost money and absolutely was about turning a profit for some people. But for me, it was a tie to the history of my Alma Mater and the football heritage the school has. I display that football proudly and honestly I don't even remember the exact price I paid for it, so that giving it up I become worried about whether I made a profit or loss on it. I plan on that football remaining on display somewhere in my house or office indefinitely. Truth be told, I'm actually not even that attached to this compared with the old family photos, artifacts and uniform items from my Army days, and many other items of sentimental value to Amanda and I from our life! There are items I have in my junk that are true gems, even if they have little value for financial benefit.

There are some things that we need to simply enjoy. 

Some things have significant value other than how much it is worth.

One of the pieces of artwork I gaze at
Artwork we can endlessly gaze upon.

Music which sweeps over and moves us, bringing us back to a particular era, or having lyrics and rhythm that resonates deeply with where we are, emotionally and mentally.

Movies or TV shows move us down deep, welling up our eyes with tears, twisting our hearts in good and bad ways, and grasping the difficult growth and redemption that come from the plot, or perhaps just energize us and motivate us to be a little more aware of everyone else outside of ourselves.

A family photo highlighting the bonds of family and gatherings with all their good, bad, and craziness!

Sure, memories are involved, and there comes a time when we have to recognize its time to get rid of certain stuff. We see this as well in shows like Hoarders, where everything is given sentimental value and the owner has to just keep the stuff. I don't want my allegiance or passion to be for the material things. That is not the point of this post. 

The point is that we need to remember there are aspects of life that cannot be monetized or reduced to financial cost-benefit analysis.

The arts should not be reduced to simply what makes money or advances the marketing machine. A good film which provokes thought or stresses a moral dilemma still has meaning over the next sequel in a predictable line of action or romantic comedies. Yet, even these films can sometimes move us.

Artwork should provoke, engage, and illuminate life for us. Recently reading Henri Nouwen's Return of the Prodigal Son reminded me just how important it is to reflect, grow, and see a painting and the story it represents in new ways. Such engagement is what changes us. 

USS Arizona sitting where it was sunk
Historical artifacts impact us in ways other than monetary. I remember years ago when I went to Pearl Harbor and took the trip out to the USS Arizona with three other close friends. It was a somber moment, one which brought to life the tragic events of that day and the remembrance of the even greater conflict it brought us into. The oil that still slowly leaked to the surface, causing it to glisten, was a stark reminder that this event was real and that many a sailor died that day. 

It changed me. 

The importance of USS Arizona memorial is not to drive tourism dollars  into the local economy of Oahu, although that is a measurable by-product, but to remember an event that changed our nation's course.

The importance is in remembering our history, and letting the gravitas of the situation change us.

Education, faith, spirituality, history, philosophy, art in all its forms, writing, and even historical period pieces found by American Pickers on our nation's back roads tell stories. I find that when I really even remember watching these shows I don't remember how much money the people made or didn't make, but the story of finding, interacting, and telling the story of whatever they found. I learn just a little bit more about a situation, a way of life, an artist, and history as told in the small stories that weave the fabric of the larger narrative.

May we approach life in a way that recognizes our need for expression, reflection, history, and growth. 

May we recognize art, music, history, and hobbies are items to enjoy, not monetize. 

May we reflect on the deep things of life, and let them change us with their stories.

May we appreciate what moves us. 

1 comment:

  1. Good article, I agree, life isn't about money, it's about relationships. Learning about the history of something strengthens our relationships with the past and helps us understand relationships between people in the past.

    One thing to note, all the "modern" shows (Pickers, Pawn Stars, etc.) show the money aspect because of who they shows are marketed to. The target audience is middle-lower class Americans who focus on money and how much they can get. Why can the people get that much money for their stuff? Because in the end, someone is willing to pay that much for the sentimental and relationship value that item represents. Sure there's people who sit on it hoping to make a profit, but at the end of the line, there's people like you who pay for the sentimental value of the football without caring how much it's worth.
    The TV shows have devolved into focusing on what the most people want: the monetary value of an item with a passing explanation of why it's worth that much. Behind the TV shows are the people who actually buy the items for the meaningful value.

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