Empty vessels. They come in all sizes, shapes, shades and textures. Some made of plastic, paper, wood or glass. Boxes.
After Christmas, my wife gathers up all the boxes from that year’s gifts and carries them to the basement, where she stores them for possible use. Or is it simply for posterity?
She also has a habit of keeping old flowerpots and assorted vessels. Candle glasses bearing smidgens of colored wax of cinnamon, cranberry or melon aromas. And jars — lots of jars. As a boy, there was nothing more refreshing than drinking icy Kool-Aid out of a sweaty old jar, though I no longer drink from jars.
Still, we have an extensive collection. Whether they once held mayonnaise, sweet relish, mustard or spaghetti sauce, there is a basement shelf that has avoided my discarding hand.
These empty vessels seem to serve little purpose, except to take up space. But I have reasoned that should we ever need to store goods in case of nuclear holocaust, at least we will have endless jars.
Upon close self-examination, however, I must admit my own affinity for empty vessels. Empty bottles of cologne, which, for some reason, I find hard to trash.
I also have a shoebox, or two. A collection of wooden cigar boxes I have vowed someday to decorate as gift boxes, or turn into miniature jewelry chests. There is the fancy case or gift bag that surely must have held something special, even if I can vaguely remember now.
“Stuff.” This is the category in which I place my assortment of empty vessels that mean little to anyone else in the world, but something to me, even if their initial intended purpose has since evaporated, like the substance of things they once held.
Here lately, I have wrestled over my bond with boxes and such.
I have concluded that much of what we accumulate throughout our lives falls into the category of stuff. That beyond things of monetary value that enable us to meet life’s financial demands — and also to leave some fiscal inheritance for our children — our greatest treasure amounts to a more-than-sentimental collection of scents, seasons and memories. Many of these can be rekindled-preserved perhaps-sometimes by a mere glance at a simple old box or a whiff from a empty cologne bottle.
I am convinced that as human beings we are little more than vessels ourselves. That our real value is housed within this earthen mortal shell of our soul. That we are meant to be a gift to others — meant to be inhaled. To love. To help make someone else’s life better, even if in some small way.
I have come to believe that we can choose in life to remain selfishly full. Or we can seek to become, by life’s end, empty vessels. Having poured of ourselves, giving without regret, loving without reservation, being givers more than takers. And that maybe this is the way to eternal life.
Standing at the cold cemetery where we buried my mother this summer, it couldn’t have been any clearer the other day. That no matter how expensive the individual headstone or monument, graves are filled with mere empty vessels — forever silenced — unless those buried there had poured into others before closing their eyes.
Still, sometimes we who have inhaled the scents and souls of seasons past need reminders. Like the smell of an empty bottle of old perfume. Like the once empty box that now holds a pair of my mother’s shoes, tucked in a corner on my closet shelf.
Like an empty box of memories.