Short Stories

The Urn

Like a vulture swooping down on a dead carcass, I dove into the world of locker auctions. It seemed not only fun, but profitable. What could possibly go wrong? My mother and I had enjoyed going to auctions in the past and this was the next level. Storage wars was a popular show at the time. All I had to do was outsmart the other bidders and I’d make off with a pile of money. Right? Maybe it was just bad luck. Maybe it was providence – God, if you will, teaching me that this wasn’t the life path I was meant to take.

Indeed, I outsmarted the other bidders. I was good at it. The trick is to interrupt the pattern that the other bidders are used to. In NLP it’s called a pattern interrupt, but don’t let the complicated nomenclature fool you. All it means is taking people by surprise; catching them off guard. Using a combination of these psychological tricks I won the locker. I was ecstatic – but it would soon turn into a nightmare.

This dog eat dog world showed me it’s true colors that day. I was determined to succeed at any cost. The price was almost my sanity. I asked a lot from my friends and family that day and I still owe them a debt of gratitude.

We dug through piles of clothes and furniture. It was complete crap. We’d be lucky to make our money back. After the truck rental and the hard work, there’s no way this was going to be worth it. But wait – what was that, tucked away in the corner? A box with a mysterious vase beckoned for a closer look. I brought it out into the light. To my dismay, it was not gold or jewels. It was in fact the remains of a deceased person.

What was it doing here? It didn’t make sense to me. Why would someone leave an urn filled with the cremated remains of a loved one? The reality of the situation started to sink in. Maybe someone abandoned the urn. Maybe someone meant to take it, and it was left behind. Maybe I outbid the family who was trying to reclaim their property (This wasn’t the case).

The tragic story of this family was well documented within the storage locker. Boxes filled with memories and photographs. Toys, clothes and personal belongings told us more than we wanted to know. Curiosity got the best of us and we began to absorb the tragic details. At this point we just wanted to get the hell out of there and abandon the locker. We opted to lose our deposit and let the storage company clean it out. They were not happy and even attempted to charge us an additional fee. Me being who I am, I would not have any of that. A shouting match ensued between me and the manager. He was going to charge our credit card for damage on the truck we rented. Why? Because he didn’t want to clean out the locker. Even though we had left a cash deposit of 100$, he felt that the locker along with the furniture inside would cost him more than 100$ to clean up. Sorry, but that’s not my problem. He should have thought of that before the auction. Apparently this was a first for him. I told him I would take him to court for fraudulent charges on the card if he proceeded. Since the truck was in the same condition as it was when we rented it, I started taking pictures. After he called his boss, who then called the owner, they ended up getting stuck with all that the crap furniture left in the locker. Not my problem. The urn, on the other hand, called to me. I phoned the police to ask about this situation. They told me the urn would get thrown out into the trash if I didn’t take it along with me. They said this kind of thing was something that happened every now and then.

Urns get abandoned in storage lockers. Apparently that’s a thing, because it’s cheaper than a burial plot. Who knows what really happened. All I knew now was that if I didn’t handle this properly I wouldn’t feel right. So I took the urn home with me. I was deeply uncomfortable with it, but I knew this temporary discomfort would be NOTHING compared to the guilt I would inevitably face if I allowed this person to be discarded in the trash. Unacceptable, I thought to myself. That is NOT how we treat the dead. The callous and cold reality of the storage locker auction business was hitting me hard. It was hitting my mother hard. We were emotionally involved now- which is not what you’re “supposed” to do. But that’s the problem with the world. We disconnect ourselves emotionally to make money. It’s just business, as they say. Nothing personal.

There was one more thing that was with the urn – a bracelet. I don’t think it was very valuable. Even if it was, I would have returned it along with the urn. They went together. Something inside me just knew that the bracelet belonged to the deceased. The rest of the belongings, I did not keep. I wanted to bring closure to this. I took the decision to incinerate the rest of the personal belongings, and try and track down the family.

After a few Google searches, I was able to find the obituary.

I am very fortunate that I had access to a terrific counselor at the time. She had connections with a few community Elders who would be able to assist me in returning the urn to where it belonged.

A few days later, I received a call from one of the Elders. He wanted me to meet with the deceased woman’s daughter and return the urn. This was too much for me. I could not face her. I felt tremendous guilt for my involvement in the buying and selling of this locker. How could I explain to someone that I bid a few hundred dollars for her family’s belongings? Would she even want the urn? This was too much.

There was no judgement from the Elder. He understood how difficult this was for me. We made an arrangement to meet at the remand center where he worked as a counselor. The urn was now in his care. There was a sense of closure, a sense of peace. My career in locker auctions ended as soon as it started. I’m glad it’s over. I don’t regret learning this powerful lesson.

Buying and selling objects is something I continued to do in various ways, each time learning new lessons. These lessons taught me what is the most valuable thing in my life – a clean conscience and a sense of honor. I’m not a good salesman. I have a hard time convincing someone they need something when I know they really don’t. I have a hard time charging more than what I paid for something. I have a hard time charging for my services and collecting money. Humanity is wrapped up in this illusion that charging more for something than what it’s worth is a good thing. We reward it, we encourage it, we pat each other on the back. We justify taking profit during times of crisis. There is an acceptable exchange that can take place. But don’t be fooled by economic theories of supply and demand. Greed is at the heart of it all.

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