The “Stuff” of Life
By David John Cook
I remember graduating from high school in Waterloo, Iowa. I was finally done. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed high school life, but I was ready to pack my “stuff,“ move on to college life, spread my wings, and fly! As I boarded the plane and set out to conquer the world, I had just two pieces of luggage.
Years later, when my family and I moved from Washington State to Saint George, I found myself standing in front of two huge trucks full of, well….more stuff. “What happened?” I thought. Yes, I finished my degrees, got married, and had children, but really, where did all of this stuff come from? Did my neighbors sneak some of their unwanted things into those trucks? No, it was all mine.
I know we all need stuff: things to wear, things for the house and for school, and I suppose, things we want but don’t really need. There’s even the stuff we can’t afford but buy anyway. There it all sits, staring us in the face every day: the necessities and the toys—the stuff of our lives. I wonder if we have lost the real importance of life? Are we “investing” in our family and friends—the things of the heart—as our most important asset or are we filling our lives with stuff to make up for estranged family relationships, loneliness, or sadness?
As a funeral director, I was called out one night by the coroner in Washington. A man had been found deceased in his home. I was called on to make the “removal” and bring him back to my funeral home. I was told he had no family members, at least that were known, and his neighbors really did not know him either. As I entered his home, I saw his body on the floor next to his couch. Around him were scattered bank statements and other mail. His accounts had large sums of money in them. I peered around his living area and saw a few Emmy and Oscars awards on his fireplace mantle. His home was full of movie memorabilia, stacks of newspapers, many furnishings, and lots of other stuff. There he lay, very much alone, with no family or friends—just his stuff. I have seen this type of scene repeated many times over in my career.
Each morning, I enter the funeral home and see those who have passed the night before: the rich and poor, the famous and the average person. There they lie under a clean white sheet—quite equal in death, with no stuff around them. Some have surviving loved ones and yet others have no one to call family or friend. There is something very sobering about such a moment that helps keep me tuned into the things that matter most. It has been said, “You can’t take it with you.” My friends, I can confirm that.
Neal A. Maxwell once said, “The tugs and pulls of the world are powerful. Worldly lifestyles are cleverly reinforced by the rationalization ‘Everybody is doing it,’ thus fanning or feigning a majority. Products are promoted and attitudes engendered by clever niche marketing. The (Bible) teaches, ‘Of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.’ There are so many personalized prisons.”
While the stuff of this world can bring some sense of happiness, if we are not careful, we may have a hard time seeing over the top of our stack of stuff to that which is most important. Malcolm Forbes coined the phrase, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” As a funeral director, I would add, “But he is still dead.”
I believe that the gift of life and the difference we can make is more important than all the stuff we gather. The world offers many comforts that are good. However, if we are not watchful, materialism can change our focus to ourselves rather than others. This old world needs each one of us to reach out and make a positive difference in the lives of those we come in contact with. A more loving, kind, gentle, and respectful world can make all the difference. It starts with each of us, and that is good “stuff.”