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What matters?

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

The other day (week), I packed up everything that was going to matter to me for the next month, and I moved 500 miles (from San Diego to Sacramento). Everything that I needed fit into my rather small car -- and I drove it myself straight through. Later that same day I unpacked and set up shop in small extended stay hotel room, that I think they call "a suite" since it has a small kitchenette. In a matter of 8 hours, I was living (temporarily) somewhere else. Kinda puts your life in perspective.

Now there was one important thing that didn't go with me (right away) -- and that is my wife. But she'll be coming up soon; she just needs to give notice to her work, and be there for when the movers come by to pack up all our "stuff". And pack and move they will -- a large truckload full of stuff I'm sure. Couches, TVs, major appliances, tables, other computers, beds, pictures, art, kitchen supplies, brick-a-brack (out the wazoo) and the cats. But the point is that all that stuff is optional (other than the wife). Even the entire worldly belongings I took with me, which consisted of one computer to work on, bathroom supplies, a few momentos (pictures and the like), clothes, and my car, were all optional. The stuff is nice -- and I'm proud of it (I like my stuff) -- but it isn't what is important. It is all replaceable.

I had a friend (or two actually) that have had their houses burn to the ground. Everything they've "owned" was suddenly gone. They wept at the loss -- all the memories and lost things, all the work, collecting, and pride they'd built in their possessions were gone in an instant (or they realized that they were gone in an instant -- it took hours for the physical to become thoroughly oxidized in the conflagration). And the hurricanes or flooding the east are giving others some harsh lessons in the fragility of our facades of stability. In some ways I can't even imagine their loss -- but in other ways I can and just experienced something close (again).

We've also had a couple brush fires that came up to our back door and they fireman chose to use our property as the "firebreak". We got through unscathed but still had to the mad scramble to grab a car-full of "things" and get out of the area. So we've had to except the potential loss -- if not the physical one.

The interesting thing is that afterwards, the people I've known that lost everything talk about the great epiphany of the loss. What really matters? It isn't the things. And the things that they later found our were the most important to them, turned out to be the smallest things. It was a cherished picture, a small gift that some family member (or friend) had given to them. The little tokens and memories that were important -- not usually the expensive prestige giving items that they'd bought for themselves, or the big, expensive and grandiose. Many "things" I left behind were expansive -- and the sense of loss would be trivial. But the loss at the irreplaceable momentoes (with their embedded memories) is much more significant.

Many that lose everything gain and feel released by the "lightening of the load". Our houses, our "art", our furniture, cars, and all the big things are just there. They are extensions of our egos that give us pride. They offer us comfort, security and a sense of belonging -- or a sense of worth. But these things are often just distractions from what is really important. Giving them up (even temporarily) can be a release.

I'm not saying that people should give up all their material possessions to get perspective (like some philosophies espouse) -- but I do think considering the loss of things, or lightening of our physical and emotional burdens (the burden of acquisition), can help everyone with some perspective. And we can all afford to give or get rid of a few things (to a worthy charity) just to take a little weight off. Think about the material things, cherish them, enjoy them -- but just don't lose perspective.

Of course I've set up camp, and am creating a new home -- and things will be more "conformable" (stable) in a while. But the traveling, newness, and loss is a good thing -- I get reminded of what it is important to me. I use the loss, even temporary, to remind myself of what I have -- and I even occasionally write about it. Too many people get too "driven" and worry about what they don't have. So do yourself a small favor -- take a pause some time today (a break from your regular routine), and wander around your home with "new" eyes, and cherish all that you have, give the people you care about a call, and think about what is important. The stability and comfort is an illusion -- what is important is not the tangible assets, but the intangible ones. Then realize that you could give up all your "things" -- and still be the same person you are.

Created: 09/18/99
Updated: 11/09/02

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