Friday, October 26, 2007

Burning Identities

With the California wildfires blazing through homes and neighborhoods, it has caused me to reflect on the value of "things." I read an article this morning on CNN that talked to a few people who had returned to what was left of their smoldering homes. When asked what they had taken with them with such short notice of evacuation, the answers ranged from baby blankets to photographs to grandmother's butter dish. I have often pondered what I would do if I were in a situation where I had to evacuate. Part of me cannot even wrap my head around being told I have 10 minutes to get out of my house with the possibility of never coming back. Essentially, these people were asked to leave their lives behind. That is a moment of truth. We have acquired so many things, some monetarily valuable and some sentimentally valuable, so with 10 minutes to decide what is most important, what would I take?

Cameron still has a few boxes stacked in our bedroom that I am constantly asking him to sort through because I don't like clutter. I like the fact that I find joy in discarding things. Despite my minimalist nature, I still have a lot of "things." It is often been my philosophy that if I haven't looked at it or worn it or used it in the past 18 months, then I am probably not going to and it's best to just rid myself of the burden. However, would I truly feel that way if I had 10 minutes to take whatever I could and say goodbye to everything else? Would I really feel that way if my parent's house burned to the ground and I never saw all the little things I have kept tucked away in my childhood bedroom? I doubt it. I can accept the loss of my clothes... even my favorites, old school papers, little knick knacks and even my beloved books. But I would be heartbroken and devastated without my journals, photos otherwise monetarily invaluable evidences of my so-called life.

It's true that we can't take any of this stuff with us when we leave this world, but it is part of a heritage, a memory, a life once lived. In some ways, we all try to leave our mark on the earth, hopefully in a positive way. Children are so much a part of us and they carry our legacy on with them and pass it down from generation to generation along with physical momentos such as photos and journals. Most of us have a desire to be remembered for being good people and doing good things. In the past, it has been thought that people were immortalized by art - literature, painting, photography, etc. But I think we are immortalized by the effect we have on people more than what we physically leave behind. Impressions are long lasting. On the other hand, my identity is made up of many things including the knick knacks, pictures, yearbooks, race medals, earrings from Prague, paintings from Italy, wedding bouquet, cards from Cameron, journals, Muses and any other number of items that would tell someone who didn't know me at all what I was like.

Most "things" can be replaced, but not everything.

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