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Hallo again to all.

Clover, 1919In recent weeks, it has been our sad duty to sort and sift through all of the belongings of a dear, departed friend. The only child of only children, he lived his externally circumscribed life in a half-dozen rooms that would not (save for the Apple iMac in the study) have been out of place in the late Victorian and Edwardian worlds of his parents. Our friend's flat is not so much a place where the walls of time are paper-thin; it is more a place where time appears to have stood still, or where liturgical time rather than chronological time prevailed.

As we have cleaned and sorted, each closet, box and desk drawer has been revelatory in one way or another. There are of course clothes, including corsets and plus-fours. There are university diplomas from 1792, 1831, 1904, and 1952; Hoover repair manuals from the 1940s; Mother's Day cards from 1930 to 1968; hundreds of weekly letters sent home from school between 1940 and 1951. There are envelopes full of four-leaf clover gathered (and carefully dated) by our late friend's father in the 1910s and 1920s. There are boxes full of cartes de visite, wedding invitations, letters written during the American Civil War, and copies of ancient wills filed side by side with yellowed newspaper clippings. There are hundreds of postcards, Christmas cards, and birthday cards from colleagues and nannies who long ago passed through the veil.

And then there are the books—about a thousand by our conservative estimate. There are considerable levels of overlap in our libraries. We have in common E.L. Mascall's Saraband; John Shelton Reed's Glorious Battle: The Cultural Politics of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism; the collected ghost stories of M.R. James; successive editions of the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church; the four volumes of John Mason Neale's Commentary on the Psalms; novels by P.D. James, Anthony Trollope and A.N. Wilson; copy after copy of the Book of Common Prayer and a remarkable collection of various Anglican liturgical compilations.

What to do with it all? What to save? Should we keep every receipt, every undated note, every duplicate book and every unlabeled photograph? Where do the roles of loving friends and amateur curators coincide, and where do they diverge? Can we continue to carry the cherished memory of our friend in our hearts, whilst doing away with some of the material things to which he held on long after others might have discarded them?

We have not so far found any easy answers. Our friend's bank has urged us to shred the drawers full of financial records going back to the 1950s. The local diocesan archivist has very kindly agreed to give a permanent home to the large amount of service leaflets and church-related documents, including letters to and from generations of clergy, bishops, and lay leaders. Outside of these categories, our general rule has been to discard receipts and routine business correspondence (surely the early twentieth-century equivalents of spam in many cases), but to save personal photographs, letters, and the like.

The only non-negotiable boundary we have drawn in our sifting—and even that was at first unconscious—is around prayer books. Their well-thumbed pages and bent and bumped spines are the tangible, tactile reminders of a life we've always known was lived in an ardent but not extreme pursuit of communion with God. They mark the places from which not just hundreds, but thousands of prayers were spoken.

As we sort and sift, they are the best signs we have just now of the means of grace and the hope of glory. For a life lived and ended well, our hearts are unfeignedly thankful.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

18 September 2011

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