Recently on a long bike ride far out in the cornfields of Illinois, I passed an old sofa parked in a roadside ditch. Its fabric of course was worn and torn. Now a rainstorm or two had furthered stained its surface. But weather merely added to the story in its appearance.
As a person interested in process, it fell to my imagination to consider the slice of life that sofa represents. Someone too lazy or too cheap to dispose of that sofa... improperly dumped it by the side of the road. That meant it had to be loaded onto a truck at least, which took some trouble and probably meant they got some help from a neighbor or friend. And they either lied to that friend about what they were doing with the sofa that friend was complicit in the operation. You can almost hear the conversation
“Whatcha gonna do with this thing?”
“Dump it out on a country road.”
“Oh yeah. Let the county worry about it...”
Which means the sofa will arrive at the same place it would have arrived had the former owner tagged it and placed it out by the curb for pickup. But that raises a different set of questions.
Where do old sofas go when the garbage company picks them up from your house? Not sure I want to know for sure. Into a landfill? A disturbing thought. Perhaps depressing. Hundreds of sofas buried underground seems both strange and squanderous. Is there no sofa recycling program?
The questions come thick and fast once you begin regarding the material existence of an old sofa. Old conversations with the sofa salesperson come to mind. “This is an heirloom piece,” one insisted as we considered the purchase of a classic hump-backed sofa. “The frame is so well-built it will last forever. You can have it reupholstered.”
It turns out it is just as expensive to have a sofa reupholstered as it is to buy a new one. The cycle of planned obsolescence applies to sofas as well as electronic gadgetry.
You may have surmised the circumstance that initiated all these sofa considerations. This very morning another of our sofas sits on the curb in front of our house. A purple garbage sticker clings to the vertical front of the arm, the only spot where frost has not coated the couch. Pressing the sticker into place, I could not help thinking about how much I liked that couch. Sofa. Whatever you want to call it. Most comfortable damn thing in the world. We have owned it for 12 years. But the fabric grew thin and split. Then our new puppy dug into the slits and tore out some foam. As a temporary precaution we threw brown duct tape over the corners where newly stretched holes cropped up. The couch became a dying thing just as it had been very much a living thing in our living room, catching sunlight and engulfing our tired bodies as we flopped down to watch television or relaxed while having thousands of conversations. 10 or 12 years is a long time to own something.
We will not engage in the tired cliché of what the sofa could say if it could talk. If its personality resembled that of most human beings, it would probably tell us to get the hell of its back.
Too late now. The couch is worn out. We cannot afford to be sentimental about it. Forget the fact that our kids grew up on that couch. Forget the recent comforts it provided to the rescue dog who now occupies our house. The sofa was perfect for its time in every way and every stage. But consider this: Even the store we bought it from is gone. Out of business. Bankrupt. And that happened even before the economic meltdown. For the last three years the rather new building in which the former furniture store operated has been turned into a Halloween shop to celebrate the unofficial day of the dead.
The piece of furniture now sitting by the curb will go to that place where sofas go when they die. Hopefully God will deem it a good sofa and not leave it to lie about in sofa purgatory. Because it really deserves better. But theologians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer tell us that God can be extremely unforgiving. That our best efforts to ingratiate the Creator are worthless. That grace can only be accepted, not solicited or earned. So the sofa must face fate on its own terms. If it has not lived or served well then it will have to reckon with the consequences.
But as for me and mine, we have loved the sofa well. In all its olive glory, comfort, shape and style, the old sofa has lived the good life. God speed, good sofa. Go in peace.