Monday, September 05, 2011

Navigating the storm…

"I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship."-- Louisa May Alcott

Two days before Irene was scheduled to make landfall on Long Island I was standing in my living room trying to figure out what I needed to take with me if I evacuated. Aside from important papers (like the deed to my house and insurance documentation) there was very little I felt I could live without and yet my house is filled with stuff.

In truth the contents of my house are not as meaningful to me as my house itself. I have a close relationship with my home, I think of myself as its’ guardian and caretaker. I try to keep it in good repair, and looking as good as it can. In return, I expect it to shelter me, and offer me refuge from all the storms of life. My house represents my ability to take care of myself and the by-product of many years of saving and hard work.

If my house could speak it would have reminded me that it has withstood a great many hurricanes in the 112 years it has been standing, even the big one in 1938 which wiped out so many homes and businesses in Greenport Village. It would have told me it knew how to weather a storm as I have learned from the multitude of blizzards we have endured together, some with winds gusting up to 40 miles per hours and once winds so strong it made my house sway. And it would have reminded me that even though I love it, a house is still an object, a thing, and if I were to lose it to a hurricane, I could rebuild it.

Thankfully Irene did not cause the damage on Long Island it was supposed to, it moved upstate instead and devastated the homes and livelihoods of so many farmers and families. They were not given the luxury I was given to take a moment to consider whether to stay or to go. The raging rivers crested and flooded before many people could get to dry land.

In the end, I decided to go. I took enough clothes for a week, a tote bag of documents, and a valuable ring I inherited from my Mom and Aunt. I took a backup of my hard drive which had all my writing and photos, about a thousand chargers for all my electronic equipment, and cash.

As I drove in the car to my brother’s house in Philadelphia I imagined how my life would be with just the contents in my trunk, instead of feeling sad, I felt lighter. All those boxes from my apartment in the city I have not opened since I moved were filled with things I had no attachments to, all those papers in a pile on my kitchen island, things I needed to follow-up on, didn’t seem so important anymore and all those clothes in my closet I sort through and obsess about whether to donate or to keep, just seem like silly distractions.

Perhaps it is a factor of being fifty, when you can see more honestly how futile it is to hold onto to anything too hard, especially objects. We try to make things stake our claim on this earth – that boat, car or house tells the world we exist. We were here. And yet all those things can be washed away in an instant.

The one thing we can count on, that is with us every step of the way, every moment of our journey is something we dismiss as not good enough, strong enough, worth enough. It is our spirit, our self. That is what gets us through.

Driving on the New Jersey turnpike I realized that everything I ever was, could be, or would be was inside me, not in a box, a bag, a carton or an envelope.

Everything else was just stuff.

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