The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 25, 2013

Stuff and nonsense: Life itself is the only thing that matters

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Stuff.

The late comedian George Carlin talked about it in a standup routine.

We all covet stuff, he said, and spend our lives trying to acquire it.

“A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it,” said Carlin. “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time.”

We love our own stuff, Carlin observed, but view other folks’ stuff with disdain.

“Have you ever noticed that their stuff is bleep and your bleep is stuff?” he said, though he didn’t say bleep.

How many times have you said, “We’ve got to get rid of some of this stuff?”

Now think about how many times you’ve actually done it. Uh-huh.

Did I hear someone say, “He’s not talking about me. I don’t have that much stuff.” OK, go look in your drawers, your closets, your spare room, your garage. What did you find? I rest my case.

How many pairs of shoes do you have, or shirts, or jackets? And how many can you wear? Yep.

I am not pointing fingers at you alone. I have enough ball caps to outfit an army of Hydras. I have roughly 10 dozen golf balls in my garage, which even a duffer like me couldn’t lose in a decade.

We have a lawn mower that no longer works, and a broken weed whacker, recliners no one but the cats sit in, and more books than we could read in a lifetime.

Of course, stuff is the life blood of America’s economy. Companies make billions of dollars annually selling us stuff. Where would we be without stuff?

And yet, that is precisely where hundreds of our fellow Oklahomans find themselves today.

Their stuff is strewn among the wreckage of their houses, which are nothing more than piles of broken lumber, ripped shingles and shattered wall board.

Here’s the TV, on top of the toilet and under the kids’ chest of drawers.

There’s the refrigerator, or part of it, anyway.

That used to be a living room lamp, I think. I don’t recognize this painting. Oh, it came from next door?

As a veteran journalist, if having spent 37 years in the business qualifies me as a veteran, I am loathe to criticize my colleagues. It is not an easy job.

But a question from a TV journalist just the other day rankled me. It wasn’t the dumbest question I’ve ever heard anyone ask, those mostly were asked by me, but it was in the top five.

The reporter was interviewing a man on the far side of middle age who was standing beside the remnants of his home, ruined by the tornado that ravaged Moore last week.

The man and his handicapped wife huddled in an interior room of the home while it was ripped to shreds around them.

“We went in the bathroom. And we prayed about it, turned it over to the Lord. I said to my wife, I said it’s going to be just fine, and it was.”

After the man finished talking about that ordeal, the reporter asked him, “Do you feel cheated in any way? Looking around here?”

And this man, who had survived a tornado, who had come through the maelstrom unscathed along with his wife, said, “My life is in His hands. Everything I own is His. And so, whatever he does with us, is fine. It all belongs to Him.”

The reporter asked the man what he thought when he looked around what was left of his neighborhood.

“Heartbreaking. That’s all you can say, heartbreaking. There are families here that will never recover. They’ll never regain. Some of them will never capture again that sense of security that they had.

“But my security isn’t in the things I own. My security is in the Lord.”

The man was fine, though he jokingly confessed to being hungry. His wife was fine. That was all that mattered.

“You know, you look at all the stuff you accumulate in a lifetime. I’m 72 years old. You accumulate a lot of junk in that time. So, we’ll get to restart over. But it’s fine.”

If a tornado was bearing down on your house, what would you save? A better question is, what couldn’t you live without? Your family, of course, and your pets. And your stuff? No, of course not.

It is, after all, just stuff. Sadly, it seems to take a catastrophe to drive that point home.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at