I can’t imagine returning home, only to find a pile of ash where it once stood.
So many families are experiencing that reality in Colorado right now, and for the past week my own family sat on pins and needles as we awaited news from my sister, who thought she, her husband and two little boys were going to be returning home to nothing.
The fire came within just a few houses of theirs, leveling three hundred and forty-six homes and leaving only memories in its wake.
But memories are really the only things that we truly have to hold on to, aren’t they? In the end, we can’t take any of it with us- we can only take what we hold in our hearts. What makes stuff and places so wonderful, is that they are the structures in which the things that are lasting are built and made. We cherish places because what happens inside of them means something to us. The place in the living room where your little girl took her first step. The bench where your husband asked you if you would be his, forever. The backyard where the sweet dog who brought you years of happiness is buried. Those are the things we hold dear to us, not the wood, steel and brick that makes up a home.
Our possessions are a collection, expression and reflection of who we are. As I was thinking of my sister and all that she was possibly going to lose, I looked around my own apartment and thought about what I would take with me if I just had a few hours to pack up a couple of cars (in New York, it would be bags)—or like some people, only a matter of minutes to grab a few valuables from the impending flames.
I would grab my picture albums and yearbooks (and because it’s 2012, my laptop and external hard drive where all of my pictures are stored from 2007 on). My pictures and my journals are the means through which I most tangibly hold onto my memories, which is why I take so many of them and I write; it’s how I process through my life and hold onto each moment.
I would grab my wooded and ivory elephants from India, purchased during a memorable time in my life and carted around India in my backpack for two weeks before reaching the States, where they now sit on my bookshelf. I would take the bird pin that was my grandmother’s, something so special with a story long enough that it would need its own post. I would take as much of my jewelry as I could, not just because it is worth dollars and cents, but because it all signifies love, accomplishment and my personal expression. I buy jewelry with care and thought, and each piece has a bit of ‘me’ in it. I would grab a few of my favorite pieces of clothing and pairs of shoes for meaning they hold. The floral dress that I bought in Amsterdam years ago is something I cannot replace and my ‘souvenir’ from that trip.
The shoes that I got in Barcelona with the hot pink heels are a pair with a story that I’ll always want to hang on to. My woven cover up from Byron Bay, Australia isn’t just a cover-up, it’s special because it marks a memorable journey that I took along Australia’s east coast.
And as I compiled this mental list, I realized that most of the ‘things’ that I cherish are cherished because they are woven in to my life’s tapestry. I don’t care nearly as much about the $500 pair of shoes that I have (don’t worry, I didn’t pay nearly that much—I work for Gilt.com!), even though they’re worth more monetary value, because they can be easily replaced. They’re shoes. They are not part of any significant time or journey in my life. My geode that I paid $15 for while on a trip with my mom and dad through Santa Fe, New Mexico, is worth exponentially more. I bought it when I was going through a really hard time in life, and when I found it, it spoke to me, saying, “something can look kind of ugly on the outside, but don’t forget there’s indescribable beauty on the inside. You will get through this, Ashley, and become more beautiful because of it.” And that is just what I did.
So as I think upon those families who lost it all, my heart goes out to them. I pray they had minutes or hours to grab the few things that they hold most precious, and I pray that they are overwhelmed with the love and support of their community as they re-build. When tragedy happens, no matter how close we are to it, I believe it can serve as a gift to us all. It affords us the opportunity to slow down a bit in our overly busy lives and take some time to think about our lives, our time here and what we hold most important. If we were to lose almost everything we owned, what would remain?
As I pray for all of those in Colorado, I pray for you and for me, too- that we would live a life of gratitude each day, that we might slow down to see the beauty in small things, and that we would seek to compile experiences full of love and light more than a desire to compile things.