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  • Writer's pictureJohn Selzer

Life And How To Live It

Moments matter more than things.

Quick: think of the most expensive thing you own.

If you are a homeowner, most likely topping the list is your house. Maybe it's that fancy car in your garage or the vanity purchase that you cannot really afford and are floating on your credit card.

Now that you have this thing in the forefront of your mind, how did it make you feel? Was it pride and self-defining meaning? Is your very being inextricably tied up with this material possession? If you take it away, are you no longer yourself?

Probably not. Stuff is just stuff, after all.

Just this week, the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris burned, erasing hundreds of years of history, relics and irreplaceable artifacts. The tragic news rippled throughout the world, eliciting strong, emotional responses – even from those who have never crossed its threshold.

That is power.

At the time of this post, almost $1 billion has been pledged to rebuild. Wealthy individuals, families and corporations have stepped up in earnest, opened their checkbooks and pledged to rebuild.

Amazing. Admirable. Inspiring, even.

But why? What would motivate someone to so quickly raise his or her hand to pledge their support? This is not like donating to a university to forever hang your name above the entrance of majestic new building. That, you could say, is driven by gratitude for an education earned and doors opened – or maybe just plain vanity. (In light of the recent college admissions scandal, it might instead be to grease a wheel to expedite the future acceptance of an unremarkable relative.)

I presume that it was the emotion of the place that mattered. How Notre Dame made them feel. And how its absence is simply unfathomable – to them individually, to their children and grandchildren and for generations to come.

That is the power of experiences and the memories they leave behind. It is not about the physical item, but what it represents. It’s not the thing, but the emotion. How they felt at the moment of first interaction, and how their heart flutters and pulse quickens at its recollection.

See, when your ticket is punched and your life is flashing before your eyes, I very much doubt that your mind will run through the laundry list of possessions as if preparing an inventory for insurance purposes. Instead, you will relish in the moments that mattered. The experiences that made your heart soar, or shatter into a thousand pieces. The memory of the loved ones present – or absent – in that instant.

They say you cannot take it with you, and they are partially correct. The lifetime of stuff you have accumulated is left behind for those you loved to sort through, discard or perhaps fight over. But not the memories. Those, they go with you. The memories of your cumulative experiences you get to keep.

So peel the “He who dies with the most toys, wins” bumper sticker off your overpriced imported car. Rethink your priorities. Live your life. Do more. Buy less. Pay attention. Really drink it all in. Note the details, those triggers that bring memories flooding back.

And when the light at the end of the tunnel approaches, embrace it knowing that you won.


A lesser know R.E.M. song, so I will forgive you if at first your do not recognize the title. From their third studio album, Fables of the Reconstruction, this song has everything that is so great about early R.E.M. Give it a listen and trace the roots of what showed up later in their more commercially successful songs.

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Apr 22, 2019

Excellent reminder John - back in the day I remember seeing one of those "Whoever dies with the most toys..." bumperstickers - someone had modified it with a marker to read - "Whoever dies with the most toys - is still dead!"

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