“Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it.”
― Marcus Aurelius, The Emperor’s Handbook
“Why, Mr. Magruder? Why do we have to count all the towels?” Every January, just before the white sale was to begin, Mr. Magruder told me I had to count towels. Working in the Linens department at Castner-Knott, I saw towels, sheets, and comforters all the time. I couldn’t understand why we needed to count them, though. Didn’t we have a cash register that recorded the sales? Subtracting sales from what was ordered should have told Mr. Magruder how many towels we had left. “This is Inventory, Miss Black, and we must do it every January!” he emphatically answered my whining question. Inventory. I had no idea what it was, didn’t understand the value of it, and would wait years to find that it could serve a purpose in my personal life, with numbered days and the setting sun on the horizon.
I really hadn’t thought about inventories in a long time, at least a year, until I heard a friend say that her business would be conducting inventory. Occasionally, you’ll see signs that say “Closed for inventory,” but do you really understand what that means?
The IRS requires any business that sells retail items to perform an inventory each year. It is a proccess requirement under the Federal Acquisition Regulation Government Property Clause, 52.245-1. In Mr. Magruder’s defense, our counting towels would actually tell a couple of things: 1) how much merchandise had been shoplifted, and 2) how accurately records were being kept.
Is it possible that my family should be taking inventory each January? Would it benefit each of us to take inventory in our families, in our homes, and in our lives? With only two of us living in our home, it should be easier than it would have been a couple of years ago with our sons. Before you or I can answer the question of ‘would it help’, we need to think of what would be inventoried.
A physical inventory would let me know what items have expired in the pantry because the recipes for which they were purchased never came to fruition. It would tell me how many pots and pans I have that have not been used since the time I found the recipe for dishes that required a special pan. I might never have made the recipe, but I bought the pan and ingredients in hopes of making it happen. I feel certain that many heads will nod at this and many will shake in dismay at my waste.
A physical inventory would tell me if I have too many or too few sheets, and if I need to purge some of the towels that came into our lives almost 27 years ago. I would be able to clear space in the medicine cabinet of pain relievers long past their prime, so I could make way for the essential oils of which I’ve become fond. That Neosporin that expired in 2004 would be recognized as trash, and a new tube could take its place. I’m seeing how beneficial this physical inventory could be for us. Don’t you see where this could help you, as well?
It’s a little freeing, I think, to know what you have and what you need and to be able to sweep out that which no longer serves you.
The idea is pretty much the same as it must have been for Mr. Magruder–to discover what is in stock, what we’ve over-purchased, and what we thought we had that is missing. Our physical lives are just half of who we are, though, and the other part of the inventory would have to include the self. A physical inventory sounds much less complicated.
Eating habits, sleeping habits, exercise habits, and thinking habits are areas of needed change for most of us, on a daily basis. Inventorying, taking stock of, what occupies the space within ourselves is at least as important as taking stock of what is in our homes.
Aurelius’ words to ‘throw open the windows of your soul to the sun’ are a little frightening to me. I have found much in my soul that has scared me to face, to inventory, to count or recount: memories of painful experiences, sadness that has visited in seasons for too long, costly mistakes, failed attempts at pleasing others. If, however, I risk using my days to throw open the windows of my soul to the sun, inventorying myself, I will also allow for the possibility that when I have purged that which has expired I will have space for experiences that will make each of those numbered days much richer, fuller, and more meaningful.
I sat in a small office with my infant son as I took my last college exam, allowing me to become an elementary school teacher. It was a dream fulfilled, and I had thrown all I had into finishing. That was 24 years ago. I never had my own classroom of children, but have had a lifetime of children who have come through my walk as I’ve volunteered in schools and church.
As I inventory myself, I recognize that who I was is not who I am, and if I will be brave enough I can find as much joy in the next part of the journey. I write, I photograph people and birds, and I’ve developed an insatiable appetite for learning about things that once bored me.
Go to your pantry, your medicine chest, your closet, your heart. Pull out those things that have expired. Make space for the recipes you want to try, the remedies that make sense for your health, the experiences that will bring joy and life to your heart. Throw open the windows of your soul to the sun, for your days are numbered, and soon the sun will set.