Monday, August 27, 2012

Disposable Outcome: The Theology of Pressboard

Having worked in education for so long, I have forgotten how normal people see calendars and seasons. To me, a calendar is not delineated by weeks or months but by meetings, appointments, and deadlines. "Seasons" correspond to athletic events and not by how the trees change color. However, there are always two holidays which stand as fixed points marking the beginning and end of the year, and are celebrated with great joy and anticipation in the hearts of all who work in higher education:

Move In Day and Move Out Day.

Recently, I could tell we were getting close to celebrating Move In Day and the start of the academic semester simply by the amount of trash sitting on the roadside. The neighborhood we live in is somewhat populated by undergrads who rent out houses during the year, and then hang on for dear life during the summer, hoping to squeeze out every ounce of free time they can muster before having to move on to either "the real world" (due to graduation) or back home to live with their families. As such, they wait until their lease is up to even consider packing, cleaning, or preparing to transition to whatever residence comes next. This means that one day the sidewalk and street are clean and free from obstructions, and the next morning, giant mounds of papers, cardboard and used furniture has sprouted up like giant mushroom trash piles.

As I was outside playing with my kid one morning, for some reason my eyes were drawn to the three large objects sitting outside a row of houses just up the street from us: an entertainment center, a computer desk, and what appeared to be a bookshelf. It was difficult to tell what each object had been in a former life of usefulness, because they had all been ripped apart, broken, and tossed piece by piece onto the street. This was not due to the former occupants of the houses engaging in some kind of battle with super villains and their residence getting trashed, nor was it - much - likely due to a wild party the night before.

Nope. All this furniture was pressboard, and therefore easy to break apart.

So of course, after seeing piles of discarded "furniture" sitting on the side of the road, my mind immediately began to reel with allegories, comparisons, and questions about the what and why of these mountains of inexpensive decorations, and how they correspond to me and my life:

...how at one time, I thought this stuff was fine to have in my room and later in my house. But as I began to put away childish things, and to have my tastes shift, I too just dumped what I once thought was of great value to me for something of a greater value and had greater potential for lasting longer.

...how it must appear to those who travel by my life or my house and see the piles of debris that I sometimes just leave out for someone else to clean up. Because, you know, we pay people to clear that mess away. I shouldn't be responsible for the safe disposal of a legitimate potential hazard.

...how sometimes these temporary, almost furniture-as-placeholder items, still retain some worth to them, but in our rush to discard them for something bigger! better! shinier! newer!, we tear apart and destroy something that someone else could use. Someone may legitimately have a need for something we see as unimportant now that we have the "2.0" upgrade item.

...how I have been the jerk in relationships - platonic and romantic - to use and dump, never thinking about what I am splintering, who might step on the pieces scattered about in collateral damage, or what I am doing to this item (or person) that someone might find beauty and treasure in.

...how my faith has gone from something mass-produced and cheaply constructed to something firmer, with a deeper foundation, with more durability. How it has gone from something made to be uniform, in style and in step with so many others, to something hand-carved and truly unique. How it broke because it could not put up with and bear under the weight of a life lived outside of the safety of a showroom. How I outgrew the need for parts of it despite how much the manufacturers kept assuring me there was a market for it (really, these days, who needs a TV or microwave cart?).

...how that it is my job to show those who may require literal or metaphorical pressboard as a first stage in their life that they can move beyond it and into something finer. Something stronger. Something that will last, that thieves will not steal and rust (or water damage) can not destroy.

For my fellow Higher Ed geeks, consider this "Chickering & Reissering" your furniture. And your life.

So my question to you is this: how is your furniture?

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