There is purpose when we gather, but it’s instinct.
When we collect, sort, file and filter we have a sense that what we have is an extension of us. When we come together, it’s to eat, watch, or even just to “hang” – but those are pretexts. The huge Trump rally or the gathering in Vatican Square or just going to church has the avowed purpose of veneration – but I think it is more about our deep, hardwired need to gather.
We gather to work, and often the gathering is more important than the work. We gather at personal milestones where common recognition of marriage, birthday or death is just what we want to do. We gather to perform: both performers and audience.
We gather towns to make countries, countries to make alliance or culture: we gather as cultures to make things like St Paddy’s, which for most is simply to venerate the color green.
There are those who are alone, but they, like everyone, think in gathered memories, thoughts and actions. A binge watcher is gathering a show, piece by piece.
My father sat alone almost every evening, for all the years I knew him, and despite the clouds of blue Kent smoke and 14 ounces of scotch within him, gathered, sorted and filed his stamps and coins. He used to gather at the Onyx or Kit Kat Club in Harlem with hundreds of fellow jazz-o-philes in places filled with blue smoke and booze: but that was then.
I have been the executor for both my mother and father. I know that, in the end, the gathering stops. I released those thousands of stamps and coins. If you are not dead early by chance or catastrophe, the gathering will become a burden for all those about you.
But it’s hard to believe that gathering is not creating a pond behind the dam of your life, but that it’s actually the tides of capacity and release that are unrelenting and undeniable. How to know what goes when is a murky business that will soon be there for all those reading this.
The last sorting is not by grade, size, color, or type – it’s by memory and faith. Times like Lent make that clearer.