Stuff and Stuffing

by Margaret Jasinski

At the door, is a pile of stuff. I am looking at it with the eye of measurement. Why? The pile looks paltry.

True, it is colorful, a mound of sweaters, and not just any ones, these are all cashmere, some made in Scotland, the very best quality. At the same time, they are not the best because they are second hand, culled from charity shops and thrifting. I wanted to send something special, and these cashmere sweaters are good pieces of clothing that I was going to use for new purposes, hats or re-styled garments. I see potential in each piece. I also see the moths had their day, there are a few holes. A hint of judgement comes from wondering – is this enough, does it suit the occasion? The sweaters came from the earth like my very bones in a chain of events not one could recount. A goat ate grass, then came fleece, spun into yarn and in a factory, a knitted sweater was produced on needles, it went to a store where it was temporarily stored, then someone bought it, took it home and later donated it, then I came along and made a purchase; now mine, I send these sweaters, soft and warm, to Ukraine. Being pre-owned they reveal my personal security system. Let someone else take the risk of buying, I’ll pick it up in the next round when it is second chance.

A tinge of doubt crosses the mind as I cram the pile of stuff into a bag for shipping. These are winter clothes, by the time they get there it may be spring. How will they travel? I rehearse what is known. I am sending them to a nearby Ukrainian church. The items will be sorted and sent, by container. How will all of this happen?

In my minds’ eye I see a busy container port, a colored metal box containing the sweaters hoisted by crane into neat stacks onto enormous ships. I see myself standing at the harbor mouth, waving to the container until the vessel dips into the horizon line. “Good luck and all the best.” I hope the contents make their way to someone’s hands. I hope someone sees what I intended – the beautiful cashmere sweater, not the moth hole. It is sent from me to you. We do not know each other. The exchange of goods is highly personal. The sweaters hold a bit of my DNA.

In the pile I tucked in a few surprises. Three silk scarves. Silk scarves? They are not needed. But a silk scarf takes very little room. It is something beautiful. I was thinking of the grandmothers, the babushka’s. And there is room for beauty in the container of my mind. I recall reading “ The Thoughtful Dresser” written by Linda Grant, former editor of British Vogue. The book contained an account of the liberation of Auschwitz; when at war’s end supplies were sent to those who survived, an extraordinary and little event took place: someone sent lipstick. Yes, lipstick. This thoughtful gift brought the women with shaven heads and delicate circumstances back to the time “before,” when they lived lives of normalcy, including life’s irritants and joys, and in many cases, a tube of lipstick. This is my fantasy – the silk scarves, indeed. I envision someone being happy for a minute, holding the scarf with pleasure, and after the moment passes, when lingering doubts set in, uncertainty is supported by touch and feel, contact with beauty.

These days as I think of those fleeing from their homes, I am struck by the sheer volume of things in my life. Each time I handle a kitchen tool, when I take a pen in hand, look in the closet for something to wear to work, I wonder how it would be to stuff my life into a suitcase, board a westbound train and head into the unknown. Looking around, I am aware that I bought much of this stuff, this assemblage, from somewhere. It astonishes me. I have lived with stuff all my life, lots of it. It comes and goes. I like finding “nice things” and giving things away. This is not generosity, it is my personal system of exchange, one thing for another, the world of forms. In the last weeks, since the war began, in the back of my mind I play a game of calculus. It is a mental game of possibility and bargaining. As I look at the largess around, I strike the bargain. Would I give away everything in the house, the sewing machine, the books, the paintings, the rocking chair, all the linens and beautiful cloth, would I give them all away to stop the war? Yes, take it all. How about the car? Throw it in? Yes. The bicycles – I have two. Yes, take them, too. How about the house? We find our limits. How far do we go? What is confidence, but lack of doubt. No indecision. Take it. I will be fine without the house. I can live at work for a while, they’ll understand. It is a game in the mind. This for that. What does it mean to offer? Can offering be done in a spirit of boundlessness? What is infinity? I am not sure because I am bound. And I know it. I live in a world of amounts.

A mount, a mount like Mount Olympus reaching the heavens beyond earthly realms, a place of expansive imagination, the home of gods. What does a trillion dollars amount to ? I imagine a big stack reaching the sky as I wonder, can it actually exist, a trillion dollars? It must, someone agreed to it in the company of others. And to back the idea, a handshake, some products, goods in kind or imaginary goods in cyberspace. Mount Trillion. And here I thought a million was a lot of coin, and in the “coimage of my brain” it is a nice round figure. When I play the lottery a few times a year with my friend Al, we pay fifty cents each and buy a humble one dollar ticket. We agree, we don’t need megabucks, a million will be fine, big money indeed, just count the zeroes. Enough. That would be enough. Rest in peace, mind, there is nothing to worry about now, and speaking of amount, there are a million thoughts to accompany the prize, one for each dollar.

What is enough? Amounts live in our heads, a mental fabric of warp and woof, the two threads that hold opposite directions. How easily we can be “with ourselves at war” to find what is “just right,” the precise position of not too much or too little. What a dream. Calculus – the war figures are adding up. How many thousands of lives, injuries. Property values – billions. One oligarch, here or there, if the figures we hear are correct, could play for all of it. And at the very moment when we find balance in accounting, we become aware of pricelessness, and with that knowledge, amounts are fixed and limited, they cannot enter the conversation; it does not touch the heart.

The essence of all this? We work with conditions, conditioning and circumstance. Pivot. We aren’t learning a theory, we are discovering for ourselves. Life is not theoretical, is it? We work with the unusual stuff of life, ideas related to “me,” the dream of comfortable retirement and putting things away for the winter, and without judgement, we go beyond. We go “beyond” and make contact with our own experience. The other day my auntie, aged ninety- five- years, said, “ Today I had to go farther than the [rosary] beads.” Indeed, I understand, more than words can say. Indeed – there is a reflexive word. When we go beyond the habitual mind we find ourselves in a reflexive moment of knowing, for no reason, without cause; we know, not with the usual mind, in the usual way. We discover a space in our experience that does not depend on “what I think.” This space is the experience of existence, it is not a fancy place, it is simply a break from analysis, judgement and other habits of mind that repeatedly separate us from ourselves.

In moments of non – separation, we know what we know with natural reflexivity, a quality that spontaneously accompanies moments of clarity. ( If in doubt, recall any epiphany.) An epiphany cannot be described in words or thoughts, it is not a reference to “me” and it has no “cause.” Spontaneously arising, we know what we know, without fragments of doubt. Life speaks in movement, without words or ideas as by-products.

“Life is movement and movement is life” It cannot be anything else. Movement is life’s nature. It is our nature as well- when we recognize it as such, we arrive precisely where we are, wherever it may be.

Post Scriptum: Stuff, it is an interesting word, originating from the French estoffe meaning provision. Estoffer means to cram or to pad ( such as bombast in a garment). From Latin, stuppare means to plug up. Stupp is a plug or cork for a bottle. In Greek stuppe means to condense and to clutter. The farthest reaching iteration of the word comes from Sanskrit, stupa, which has two meanings: shrine, and the area at the top of the head. The dictionary does not indicate that in the Hindu tradition, the top of the head is also the 7th chakra, sahasrara, the crown chakra, the one thousand point lotus with petals arrayed in every direction at the top of every head. When every direction has a path there is no fixed domain, nothing is sacred and everything is a shrine.

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