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Old letters

How do you know what to keep and what to let go?

In the spring, when kings go off to war (2 Samuel 11:1) and women of a certain generation wash their windows, I was fed up with the attic. Excess coats went to the thrift store, obsolete computers got the heave-ho, and brand-new rollerblades purchased on impulse after my husband died in 1999 will go to someone more realistic. I plunged in headfirst, and downstairs residents saw little of me till the deed was done.

My maternal grandmother, before she died, threw out all the family photos. What she missed my mother tossed before she died. My husband, aware of my history, looks nervous as I pass him on the steps with face set like flint on multiple trips to the car. I have assured him I’m doing us all a favor.

Beware the words “We’ll just put it in the attic,” a casual magical incantation that has landed me with other people’s furniture (I’m sure C. has forgotten the dining room set) and adult children’s old boyfriends’ artwork. Nevertheless, Jesus said to “let your yes be yes” so these must stay till I address the owners.

I see clutter as a cancer, ravenous and unappeasable. “Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough’: Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, ‘Enough’” (Proverbs 30:15-16). If ancient Israelites had had attics, there would have been five on the list.

You don’t realize how much you have to clean out until you start cleaning out.

The thing with attics, as with life, is that you don’t realize how much you have to clean out until you start cleaning out. You always knew it was a little bit messy up there, but you were managing, after all. Stepping clumsily around land mines all the time, but managing, after a fashion. The Lord is not so lax: “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit” (2 Corinthians 7:1).

I am keeping, unapologetically, the two shelves of vintage American history books collected over years of old bookstore haunting. This may seem inconsistent with my mission, but since the powers that be are rewriting the past in our day, these will be for an Ebenezer, that whoever finds them when I am gone might know there was America the Bright and Shining Light, and not America the Shameful.

My cousin’s son’s house burned to the ground this year, with whatever 42 years of living deemed essential collectibles, whose loss I suppose he will mourn one by one. But you see, she and I have been praying for his salvation for ages. To her credit, she sees only one thing as essential and this severe pruning as God stripping everything so as to give him everything. May it be so.

The letters pose the greatest challenge. A decade ago I bit the bullet and threw out large twined bundles of my sister’s red/blue border airmail letters from England, dating from 1972, thinking it a spiritual discipline: “forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). I have always regretted it. My thought at the time was that we Christians living in the last days have absolutely no time for wallowing in sentimentality, that realistically, I would never read them again.

The funny thing is, I probably never would have read them again.

My elder son once made an astute off-the-cuff comment about love letters I was hoarding: “You pore over every jot and tittle as if each word were infused with deep meaning. Why, if he had stepped away for a drink of water, and returned to the page again, he would have penned an altogether different line than what he wrote.” Or words to that effect. Thus his caution about putting too much weight on human pledges of undying love.

This brings us to the Bibles. What is the proper disposal of a tattered Bible, I do not know. One thing I know: We have permission, when the Author is divine, to see infinity of depth in every word. The pledges of undying love.

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her columns have been compiled into three books including Won’t Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides near Philadelphia.


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