“I don’t feel good,” I responded to Sera’s inquiry about noodles for dinner. I was momentarily amused by understanding the difference between saying noodles and saying pasta; noodles implies a dish inspired by Asian cuisine, while pasta implies a dish inspired by Italian cuisine. The moment passed, and I was mentally back in the car, slowing to turn at a stop sign. Clutch, brake, turn signal, look, shift, gas and clutch, turn.
“Oh. What’s going on?” she inquired sincerely, turning to look at me. I shortly sighed slightly and dropped the mixed expression from my face, keeping my eyes on the road. “We can go back and get it,” she added. My memory wants me to believe that I smiled just slightly, but I’m unsure that’s true. Only a block away, my body had already been set to the task of driving home, and so in an effort to keep to my long-thought decision, I didn’t stop driving. We turned right, away from Goodwill. The conversation carried on. We got noodles at a store.
I’m sure to get some flak for this if people find out. I don’t even know how old it is, if anyone else wanted it, or even knew I still had it. It’s just an old brown leather hard briefcase, sure, but it’s one my grandfather owned. He used it years ago, as an engineer, or something. It was given to me about a decade ago, years before he died, but after he’d retired. It could have been worth some money, possibly an antique of some sort. I hadn’t ever used it professionally, and probably never would have, but neither that nor its value were ever the point of having it.
I’m not attached to many objects in life. Some things would be missed if, say, the apartment were destroyed, but I don’t possess anything I don’t have a use for. In other words, nothing exists in my life for sentimental purposes only, at least not as of last night. “Are you sure?” Sera asked just before we left the donation center. “Nope,” I replied, and turned to get back in the car.
No one saw me put that briefcase in the large, industrial blue bin. No one, except of course Sera. It was dark, the employees taking in donations were preoccupied with sorting other things a short distance away, and there was no reason to pay me any attention. It was exactly as it should have been. Though by the book they should have asked if I wanted a tax receipt, I was happy they didn’t. Partly and practically, I never donate nearly enough annually to exceed the standard deduction on my taxes, and so never keep track, but sentimentally, the value of that briefcase was in the memory.
Rudy, or more commonly, Grandpa, was someone I grew to look up to in my late teens and early 20s. Some in my family have noted (in a very negative way) how the man he was around me was not nearly the same man they knew in their childhood, but I wasn’t around for that. All I know is the temperance he showed me, often sitting across the table at some common food establishment, as he listened to a droning younger me, angry and upset, or struggling and tired, or confused and defeated, or all of the above. All I know are the lessons he so patiently relayed to me. He never seemed to advocate patience or compassion outright; these he simply showed. A decade and a half later, I realize the value of his values and approach.
“The ability to delay gratification is directly related to success.”
– Rudy Klapheke
All this may have been the result of his guilt for not being who he could have for his own children in the past. It could have been resignation mixed with wisdom, having watched the world pass by, descending as every generation swears it does, into worsening and unrecoverable chaos. Whatever the case, I am happy for the lessons learned, and for how he didn’t try to tell me that the good values of life were because of religion; I may have rejected him. Values to him had inherent worth, a concept I believe heartily.
Moving beyond ownership of that briefcase wasn’t, therefore, easy. I modeled much of who I wanted to be as a man on him. However, donating his briefcase was part of two larger goals in life: fewer things, and moving on. Take the lessons, take the memories, take a deep breath, and move forward. Drop that symbol in a donation bin, and walk away. It’s gone, but he’s not. Unceremoniously, and casually atop other donated things someone else may love or destroy, it unassumingly sat, its decades-long journey masked in how well it had been kept. The only markers of time were the finger grooves Rudy put in the handle through years.
To be completely transparent, my inclination to get rid of it is partly pushed by the recent massive fire in Paradise, California. It’s Sera’s hometown, but despite the overwhelming majority of buildings being destroyed, her childhood home was not. Nonetheless, as she put it, “No one wins.” Now they have a home next to what used to be a town, overlooking what used to be a forest. Now, it’s all black. She’s been reading constantly about it, as any reasonable person would, and so I, too, have seen many images and videos. No one seems primarily upset about their things; they seem upset about the missing people, the dead, and the future of the community. In other words, people are concerned mostly with people.
If they can lose everything in a blaze, without the ability to elect which things they get to keep, then I can move on without a briefcase, and carry forward with the people who mean so much to me. So, I did.