This was written for an online collaboration, where many writers write about the same topic.
The "If…" Project: September 2000 (Archive)
If a natural disaster forced you to leave your home on a moment's notice, what would you take with you? What is your most prized possession?
When my aunt and uncle’s house burned down, taking with it a married lifetime of memorabilia, my aunt said about all they lost, “They are only things.” What a great attitude! I, on the other hand, am obsessed by things. I have nightmares about losing my things. I have had nightmares since I was a child about a fire approaching my home, or my home burning.
Then sometimes I look around my crammed trailer, overwhelmed by everything, and I almost wish it would all burn so I could make a fresh start. But not really.
This is assuming that I would have already seen to my cats’ safety, because, of course, any living creatures under my care would come first. I would grab my purse and camera out of reflex, because they go everywhere with me, so I wouldn’t even have to think about them. I would take my journals, because they are my life; my “special kitty,” a battered but beloved stuffed toy kitten that I have had since I was a year old and that still has the ability to make everything better when I cuddle it; and Carla, a child-size cloth doll my mother made me that is probably the only child I’ll ever have.
I would like to think I could dismiss my losses as mere things, but I know that wouldn’t be the case. I would spend the rest of my life mourning the loss of my photo albums; my personal letters; my “treasure chest,” a wooden box my grandmother made; the antique kitchen hutch that belonged to my grandparents; my beautiful oak desk, a special New Testament; my writing; my childhood Barbies. Things can be replaced, but a lot of possessions are more than just things, and can never be recovered.
Let’s take my journals, which constitute my most prized possession. Everybody thinks about photos, and I do have some irreplaceable photos. I would miss my sunrise and sunset photos, but the really important photos I’ve taken have been of people. My photos might be lost, but there would always be somebody to provide me with photos of the people in my life. But my journals are a record of my life, and nobody else has a copy. I have started the laborious process of transcribing them and saving them on disk, to eventually be burned on CDs that can be kept in a different location, but that is a project that will take years and years, and there are things about my journals that a typed copy will lose, such as the way my handwriting has matured over time or the way it reveals my moods, or the occasional tearstains.
I guess I just have to say, I hope and pray that my nightmares never become reality.