If you were leaving home, your world as you know it, what would you take and what would you leave behind?
I’ve been thinking about Alisa and her twenty-two boxes of stuff she carted from Leningrad to Stockholm because she was going into the “nowhere.” (see chapter 20 of Jewish Luck).Who knew what was available in Sweden? As Alisa remembers her move, the single most important item among her possessions was her Potapenko painting that she calls her “Mona Lisa.” I’ve been thinking about those choices as I listen to the news this summer.
Early in the summer, the southern California wildfires threatened our Mom’s home. All the residents of the Seacrest community were told to pack a bag and be ready to evacuate. Thankfully, the fires were controlled just north of Mom’s residence and she never had to leave. As summer has progressed and wildfires have spread throughout the west, I wonder what people pack and grab as they leave.
More recently I’ve thought about my Israeli friends and family as they hasten to their shelter. Do they stock their shelters with necessities ahead of time understanding how quickly they will have to move once the sirens begin to wail?
And yesterday, I was scanning my grandson’s pamphlet about how to prepare for a stay at Children’s Hospital. One of the items to pack as suggested by the hospital is a familiar stuffed toy. I’m sure my grandson will pack Tiger and Puppy and feel comforted that they lie with him in a hospital bed. But can anyone pack away his or her anxiety before entering a hospital?
One of PBS’s most popular and most often replayed shows is Antiques Roadshow. It captures people’s fascination with both objects and worth. The viewer wants to know how the owner feels about the object, the owner wants to know about the object’s history and its value. It’s interesting to hear how people describe their heirlooms—sometimes it’s an object purchased serendipitously at a garage sale. The owner is attached to the item because it spoke to them. When they hear the value is high, the item seems to say,“sell me.” Others bring in a photo collection along with an object. It might be a great-great grandfather and his Civil War memorabilia and no matter what the assigned value, the owner claims, he or she would never part with the collection.
We may make statements that proclaim things are not important—people are. But things inhabit our world and connect us to the past and to others. As I think about moving from our house in the future, I groan at the thought of how much we’ve accummulated. My mind leaps to the saying in Pirkei Avot, “marbeh n’khasim, marbeh d’agot." The more possessions, the more worries. For me, seeing the candlesticks that my great-grandmother schlepped across the Atlantic from Stropkov in eastern Slovakia or the serving spoons that my grandmother used gives me pause. These things tell stories.
I apologize to all the people to whom I said, “just get rid of it!” Do take the time to take an emotional inventory of your possessions that have meaning. I hope none of us has to make the decision what to take and what to leave behind. Meanwhile, grab the hand of someone you love.
By the way, my question is not necessarliy rhetorical. Send me an answer via the comments and we'll print a blog with suggested contents for emergency suitcases--real or psychological.