A dizzily morning, ten minutes before the opening of the estate sale on our court, cars and trucks line adjacent streets. A steady stream of the curious hotfoot it toward the brick bungalow, heads bowed into the wind, faces taut as a fisherman’s line onto a catch. Within hours, the deceased’s world is dismantled, pieces of it stashed in bags, propped upon dollies, tucked in backseats. More cars slip into parking spaces vacated by others. So the rest of the day goes.

This dismantling recalls another, more violent, found in Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, Zorba the Greek (1946). Immediately after the death of the former courtesan, Madame Hortense, the villagers strip her home, leaving only an empty birdcage, its door unhinged.

And still another dismantling in 1980 chills me to this day. After placing a disabled widow in a nursing home, I planned to sell her few belongings from her apartment in the Blumeyer projects, the proceeds to cover some of her personal needs. Over the weekend, however, others accessed her apartment and made off with what comprised her world, leaving only three rusty skillets and an empty barrel chest, save for a used condom. These we did sell to her neighbors, recouping $4.23 for the widow.

So questions remain. What is there about our insecurities that grasp for more, sometimes at the expense of others? Why the discontent with what we have? Of what do we hope to gain?

Years ago, I was told that the greatest charity was to live simply and be mindful of those who would clean up after our passing. It seems to work.