This past year I have been on a mission. I am determined to eliminate a bulk of the clutter that Doug and I each brought into our marriage as well as the unnecessary things we have collected here in L.A. My husband and I can both be sentimental creatures so this has not been an easy task. So much so that I have turned to an outside source for help in how to think about my attitude toward “stuff”.

This past week I read one of her essays that described how things are not necessary to represent relationships: in other words, that statue or vase or sweater from your great-aunt whoever doesn’t really need to sit in a corner of your house for you to honor your relationship with her. This is where my sentimental butt gets a good little kick!

I am reminded, though, of a promise I made ten years ago to a fourteen-year-old boy.

Ivan was a kid in my neighborhood in Chicago, one of the original “crew” who won my heart and led me into God’s calling for my life. One night I took him out to dinner. Now kids in my neighborhood didn’t “go out for dinner” anywhere. McDonalds was a treat, as was the walk-up Chinese restaurant. But I had told Ivan that I would take him out for dinner as a treat–I don’t even remember now for what. So we went to this little Italian restaurant next-door to the Cubby Bear where I used to work in Wrigleyville.

I remember that the tables had white paper coverings, and each table had little packages of four crayons along with the centerpiece. I remember us coloring on our “tablecloth” and laughing a lot that day. I remember the look on Ivan’s face as he sat in this “fancy” restaurant, ordered a nice meal, and told me that he would never forget this day for the rest of his life. I remember getting ready to leave and having Ivan look me soberly in the face as he held one of the boxes of crayons: “I am going to take these home and I will never throw them away and I will always remember this day.” I looked at him, picked up the other box of crayons and promised him I would do the same.

Six years ago, Ivan’s best friend, another young man I deeply loved, was murdered. I will never forget knocking on Ivan’s door, his grief-stricken face, the way he collapsed in my arms. I will never forget his anger, his despair. And I will never forget walking into his room where he had dumped out a box that held all of his “treasures”. Photos of him and Jamar, most of which I had taken over the years, covered the bed. As I picked up a photo and strained to look through my tears, Ivan reached down and picked up a little white box and held it out to me: it was the box of crayons from the restaurant. “I told you I would always keep these, Erika. I will never, ever throw them away.”

I still have mine too: they have moved with me from Chicago to Spokane to Portland and Los Angeles. I don’t care if that box of crayons is just “stuff” and isn’t necessary to honor my relationship with Ivan. I will never, ever throw them away.

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