A life in boxes
APRIL 2 — I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything about this weekend’s Premier League action, because I haven’t seen a single kick of the ball.
The reason for that strange state of affairs is that I am in the process of relocating to Barcelona — by the time you read this, I should be speeding down an autoroute somewhere in the middle of France, on schedule for a Tuesday morning arrival in the Catalan capital.
By a happy coincidence that was not in any way manufactured (hmm), my arrival in Spain will be on the same day as the second leg of Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final against AC Milan. I’m sure you’ll agree that, for once, I have shown an impeccable sense of timing.
I’m guessing that tickets for the big game might be pretty tough to come by, so perhaps I’ll have to mark my first day in the city by partaking in a spot of haggling with the local touts. After all, I’ve heard it said that the black economy in Spain is almost as big as the legal economy, so it’ll be a useful orientation exercise to immediately get myself into the swing of some harmless illicit trading. I’ll let you know how I get on…
So, in the future, I will be writing a bit more about La Liga and a bit less about the Premier League; a little more about Messi and Kaka, and a little less about Rooney and van Persie. And I have to admit I’m pretty excited about that prospect — especially as it will involve sitting at my desk in the warm Mediterranean sunshine rather than the damp northern European drizzle.
But for now, I find myself in a strange mode of existence, preparing for my imminent move by sitting on an upturned cardboard box in my living room in England, looking around at a shell of a house that contains nothing but boxes.
Boxes, boxes and more boxes: with the exception of the laptop upon which I am tapping these words — and a bag containing a few clothes to last until arrival in Spain — my family’s entire possessions are sitting around in four-feet-tall cardboard boxes. No furniture, no television, no clothes, no kitchenware, no kids’ toys… just a big pile of boxes awaiting loading onto the delivery truck.
Even though those boxes will soon be delivered to Barcelona and the contents restored to their former purpose, I initially found the experience of seeing my life reduced to such a mundane state of affairs quite unsettling. Nearly four decades of strife and endeavour have resulted in this… a variety of objects encased in bubble wrap and shoved into a few dozen sandy brown cardboard boxes.
However, on further reflection it’s not so bad. Life isn’t really about the accumulation of material objects — just because my possessions have been packed away into anonymous boxes doesn’t change who or what I am. Fundamentally, I don’t think my life would really be any different even if the boxes were tipped overboard and lost at sea in a freak shipping accident en route.
My life isn’t about books and bags and pots and pans. This can only sound corny and sentimental, but the important things in my move to Barcelona are my family, my experiences and my memories. They are the things that define my being, both in terms of my own self-awareness and the perception that others have of me. If they were taken away, my life would change; if my Van Halen CDs were lost in the waves, I could survive unscathed.
I’m not suggesting that material possessions do not matter. They matter a great deal, of course. Modern consumer goods can enrich our lives tremendously and dismissing their significance would be insulting to the billions of people who aren’t fortunate enough to have them.
But, like many things in life, our admiration of commodities should be tempered by a sense of balance, and perhaps we sometimes lose perspective. In our frantic lives of ambition, self-improvement and status envy, we can fall into the trap of devoting a disproportionate amount of time and energy to the slavish pursuit of material goods.
Seeing them packed up into cardboard boxes somehow makes it more striking that material possessions are temporal and transient. Over the course of years they change, they are lost and they are replaced as the passage of time exerts its inevitably decaying effects.
The things that survive throughout the years can’t be bought, sold or put into boxes. Our relationships with people and the experiences we encounter over the course of our lives are the things that really matter. They define us and shape our lives. Maybe we should spend more time tending to them instead of chasing the newest gadgets and appliances.
I’m sure other people are different; other people would take immense pride in looking around their belongings packed into neat boxes, deriving satisfaction (or disappointment) at the sight of all the physical stuff they have accumulated.
But not me; it’s made me realise that I don’t really even care about the stuff that much. Other things are more important — even more important than the Van Halen CDs.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.
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