A first for me, maybe, a repeat--and a bit of a story. It's came to me to do the morning devotions this morning at a meeting, and I thought I 'd do something, well, local, something that featured something about our square inch of turf out here in Siouxland. Then I thought of a Sunday morning when I'd been reading about the Lakota ceremonial "Giveaway," and how it was banned by good Christian white folks as heathenish--and what an irony that is.
Here's the new part. I thought I'd better get my facts straight, so I googled "Lakota Giveaway," and, there on the list--maybe third or fourth--was "Stuff in the Basement." First time that ever happened. Obviously, I clicked, and got taken back to October 25, 2007, where this is what I'd written.
For this morning, it'll do just fine. __________________________________________________________
If I were among the Lakota who once upon a time lived here, I wouldn't have the problem. If I were Native, I wouldn't look around and despair.
My wife and I are at the age where it's not hard not to accumulate. We don't even open the stacks of catalogs that come in the mail almost daily now, on the run-up to Christmas. Eventually, they hunch on the table beside the chair, untouched. L. L. Bean or Eddie Bauer or whatever--makes no difference. We don't buy furniture and rarely buy clothes because, Lord knows, we've got enough. At our age, hoarding isn't among the seven deadlies—at least the buying stage.
Our problem is cleaning house. Our problem is getting rid of stuff. Our problem is somehow making the load we carry--our lifetime's accumulation of things--something less of a massive burden.
A couple years ago, I was sitting the basement typing something when I heard a rather consistent crashing noise--time after time and time. I got up from the chair, got up on my tiptoes so I could see out of my basement window, and watched as a man next door--our neighbor's son--persisted in, literally, cleaning house. They'd moved their mom off to the home, and the kids--all of them from out-of-state--were going through that old place, cleaning up, and out. The guy would walk out, his arms full of stuff, and then shove the goods out and away from him into a pile of junk that was growing like something from a sci fi movie. The ritual was nicely timed. Bang, bang, bang, I'd hear--then silence, then another round.
I told myself that my son and daughter would likely someday do the very same thing: go through all the vestiges of a perfectly normal life and the trinkets I surround myself with--old sports trophies, accumulated souvenirs (a little clay donkey from Brazil, a sumo wrestler from Japan), at least a hundred audio tapes and assorted CDs, all kinds of books, many of which I've never read. Maybe some of those would go off to the library, but most of the detritus will end up on a pile I can imagine mushrooming between the house and the old barn out back. Big pile--huge. Even an army surplus file cabinet, full of old student papers, black and white photograph (art!), hundreds of pages of useless correspondence, and dozens and dozens of editorial rejections. All of it--out!
That kind of cleanup is not the essence of the Lakota Giveaway, however. I just read a student's paper--all about the old Lakota Giveaway. It was no garage sale, no flea market. A Giveaway offered the good stuff, put it out in front of the teepee for anyone to grab, as a show of love, of regard, of respect, of thanksgiving. If you wanted to be good, you gave your good stuff away.
I remember clearly the day that I first read about a Lakota Giveaway. It was a Sunday morning, and I was reading a book about the Yankton Sioux, some of whom, 150 years ago, likely passed through our neighborhood--when the county really belonged to the Sioux, when it was theirs, not ours. I remember being somewhat surprised by the fact that white folks outlawed the Giveaway, wouldn't permit their Native neighbors to practice such abomination, just like they prohibited the Sun Dance--and for a similar reason. They wanted the Lakota to be good citizens, good Christians, good people, in every way like their white neighbors. What tomfoolery, after all--giving your precious things away. In the real white world, after all, the one with the most toys wins, right? So the Giveaway was banned, made illegal. The Lakota would get tossed in the clink if they clung to the old ways.
Then I went to church that morning and heard a fine sermon on stewardship, on selflessness, on giving to the poor, on using wealth wisely, on rich men and needle's eyes, a wonderful sermon on the very earth where good white people, good Christianized white people, once made Giveaways illegal. Amazing grace.
At important events like births or weddings or funerals, a Lakota family would gather their belongings--lots and lots of things--and set it all out for anyone in the community to take. Listen to this old Lakota wisdom: "What you give away, you keep; what you keep you lose."
I think I've heard that before somewhere. Something like it anyway.
Once upon a time, I tried to update the medieval allegory Everyman, tried to bring its ancient moral admonition into contemporary life, an exercise in futility, I suppose, but fun. Besides, I loved the play. At a certain time, the man who is us, Everyman, goes to Worldly Goods and begs him--a character often cast as a big, fat guy--to come with him to the grave. Worldly Goods will have nothing of that, of course. On that walk, nobody ever "comes with"--certainly not our sweet trinkets.
Lakota moral lessons and medieval drama notwithstanding, nothing much has moved from the stacks of stuff in my basement since the day I read about the old custom or heard the man next door dumping the trash. Giveaways are much easier to talk about in concept than they are to practice. Shoot, I honestly couldn't toss all this stuff, couldn't even pile it up like my neighbor's son. I'm still far too attached.
But maybe, with God's grace, in a few years, out to the north of the house, right there under those beautiful, towering lindens, maybe I'll put on a full-fledged Dutch-Calvinist Giveaway. Everything--couches, beds, chairs, what not--we'll put it all out on the lawn and whoever wants it can have it. We'll slim our lives down.
Not a flea market either--a honest-to-goodness Giveaway. How incredible would that be, how newsworthy? I bet I could get local papers, maybe even a Sioux Falls TV station. It's man-bites-dog material.
But then, a real, honest-to-goodness Giveaway would be--here in Sioux County, in Sioux Center--perfectly fitting because it would be really, really, really old-fashioned.
I like that.
One more thing: It's been almost four years since I wrote all of that. You want to guess how much we've moved out? Yep. Zilch.