Guest Article by Mark Kennedy (ACSI Canada)
Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven where moths and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. Matt. 6:19
While I was cleaning out my father’s nursing home room after his funeral the institution’s assistant director approached me with an expression of deepest sympathy on her face and her right hand extended.
“Mark, I know you would want to have these.”
I reached out to have my palm graced with a plastic bag full of my father’s false teeth.
My mouth said, “Oh, thank you so much!” making a reasonable stab at sincerity on short notice but a little voice in my head asked, “What am I going to do with these things?”
The best spur of the moment answer seemed to be, “Shove them in your jacket pocket and figure it out later”. Well I did that and promptly forgot about them for a few weeks- until I reached into my pocket for change in a donut shop. My “What in the world….?!” drew a fair amount of unwanted attention from the patrons and no one was impressed when I pulled the dentures out into the unforgiving light of day.
Again that “What am I going to do with these things?” question invaded my mind like an uninvited spectre. At home my sock drawer suggested itself so in they went with the argyles, boxer shorts, odd shoe laces and an antique ash tray sporting a picture of Donald Duck - don’t ask, I’ve no idea where it came from and can’t imagine what sort of chain smoking delinquent preschooler would have used it.
Every now and then over the next few weeks I would relive the Agatha Christie-esque denture horror while searching for my favorite pair of socks or lucky underwear. Rediscovering the teeth was perhaps not as jarring as finding a corpse in the library but still it was a nasty jolt before my morning coffee. And it always followed the same pattern: first shock then recognition, then restashing and finally, reforgetting. The pattern repeated itself several times over the next few months until early January 2010 when a solution hove into sight in the person of Pierre Trudeau – not the popular but dead former Canadian Prime Minister, the other one. This gentilhomme works for an online seller of sports memorabilia. He and I were organizing an auction of the7 box full of my father’s hockey memorabilia; things like rings, engraved silver plated stuff, plaques and a variety of odds and ends. Pierre thought these items might sell reasonable well and he made a few other suggestions.
In a flash of inspiration the teeth came into my mind (figuratively speaking of course).
“Would anyone be interested in my father’s old dentures?” I asked hesitating with some embarrassment. Pierre’s enthusiastic response astounded me.
“Absolutely!! Celebrity dentures are very collectible!!!”
Incredulous – that’s what I was; stunned and kind of appalled that someone would be interested in an old man’s false teeth. Why would anyone want them? And how would a person know these were really Teeder Kennedy’s anyway, not counterfeits - teeth that would be in a sense doubly false?
Well at least it seemed like a good way to get rid of the things so I added them to the 36 other items.
The auction wasn’t all that successful for us due mainly to the addition of a very popular piece belonging to another seller. The sweater that Paul Henderson wore when he scored the winning goal in the first Canada- Russia hockey series sold for over $2 million and drew a lot of attention and bids away from Dad’s stuff.
Have you ever thought ‘Someone around here must be crazy!’ and then wondered if that someone might be you? That’s how I felt at the end of the auction. Of all Dad’s things the dentures sold for the seventh highest price – and I’m pretty sure they had the most bids.
It’s not that I was ungrateful. All the auction proceeds went to provide for us, our children and grandchildren and to support ACSI’s work in Haiti. I know that is what Dad would have wanted. He would not appreciate a hockey shrine in his honor made out of things that “moths and rust destroy” and that “thieves break in and steal”. To him there was a place for engraved silverware and Stanley Cup rings and trophies – in seven broken down cardboard boxes piled in a corner of his basement (and also stuffed in his sock drawer). Neither my wife nor our daughters saw any point in keeping these things. We still have lots of pictures of Dad and newspaper clippings from his Maple Leaf days but I doubt we’ll look at them all that often. The really valuable legacy from my father – the thing that matters to me and to his grandchildren and will matter to generations yet to come can’t be hung on a wall or locked up in a trophy case. It has nothing to do with Dad’s athletic career but everything to do with his character. That’s the invisible heritage that we hope will be passed on to future generations as long as they are willing to receive it.
Now I’m not a learned theologian. I could have this wrong, but it seems to me that good character is the very kind of treasure Jesus refers to in Matthew 6:19 that will be stored up in Heaven.
And even if I’m wrong about that, I am sure there won’t be any celebrity dentures there.
Last week I had a call from a principal at a member school where she has served faithfully for almost twelve years.
“I don’t know how we can keep on going after the March break.” She said, “We may have to close down now.”
She faced a problem common to so many North American Christian schools over the past few years – not enough students and too much debt. I knew she was working through the range of emotions and questions with which lots of Christian school leaders have wrestled recently. And she was tired. Her visible school, the one she worked and prayed so hard to see prosper seemed about to vanish. I prayed with her asking the Lord to rescue the school - I meant the school I could visit and touch and see in operation. But even if the Lord chooses not to intervene and the school has to close, its ministry won’t be lost. Students across this continent are still carrying treasures of faith and character that they received at Christian schools that no longer exist. Some of these treasures may well be passed on to friends and maybe even to future generations. That kind of legacy is the best thing any of our schools can offer to our students. Without it everything else is just a heritage of dentures.