Erin's Everyday Thoughts

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

What Matters

Photo: Although this isn't my stuffed bear,
it is one of his cousins.

A recent entry in Beth’s Front Porch ( got me thinking about what it is that really matters. Beth asked the question—In the event of fire, assuming your loved ones are safe, what’s the first thing you’d take with you?

As I began to consider this question, I realized it was a difficult choice, but not for the reason I would have expected it to be difficult. Instead of thinking of too many things I’d like to take, I thought of too few. Each thing I considered seemed very replaceable. Clothes? I like them a great deal, but I feel no important attachment to them. Electronics, CDs, DVDs? Same deal. Even books are replaceable, although I would miss some well-worn favorites.

The items that made my Top 5 were:
1) My computer, which is full of the stories, poems, and essays I’ve written since high school (and conveniently easy to take along, as it’s a laptop)
2) My jewelry box, not for its financial worth but for its emotional worth—birthday gifts, graduation gifts, Christmas gifts from those I love
3) My journals, 10+ years of my life (mood, idea, experience) recorded
4) My photo boxes
5) My favorite stuffed bear (although a recent acquisition, he means a great deal to me)

Each of these things has either creative or emotional value to me. These are the material possessions that document my past and that hold the most value for me in the present. And still, looking through the list one by one, I could imagine doing without each and every one. Although in losing my jewelry, photo boxes, and stuffed bear, I would lose things that are dear to me … although in losing my computer and journals, I would lose a path of creative thought … I could still rebuild, and I would rebuild.

It’s amazing how much time and money people (myself included!) spend on the acquisition of things when what really matters (at least to me) has nothing to do with things. It has to do with relationships, family, friends, and experiences. It has to do with what you put into life each day, not what things surround you. (As a quick disclaimer, I will admit that I like things. And I do think that things can be inspiring, moving, motivational. They can bring great joy and awaken creativity. But perhaps they can also always be replaced with other things that would serve the same purpose.)

As for what I would take with me in the imaginary fire, I finally settled on my computer, although as soon as I’d decided, I began to doubt. I remembered a story from when I was living in Pennsylvania several years ago (sorry Beth, I already wrote this in your blog!). While there, I visited once or twice with a writing group at a local library. One of the girls in the group had recently finished a writing graduate program in somewhere like California, and on the day she was set to go home, her car (packed up with all of her worldly possessions, computer included) was stolen. She described how she’d kept everything she’d written on that computer, and how she had to start writing from scratch. She told us it was scary, but that it was also somehow freeing. Being forced to start fresh also forced her to have fresh ideas, instead of continuing to mull over the starts and stops of stories and poems she’d already created. It was a great loss, certainly, but she was able to move through it and on to other work. She turned an unfortunate situation into an opportunity for growth.

As it happens, synchronicity kicked in again this week. As I was pondering all of these things—material possessions, why they do matter, why they don’t matter, and then what really does matter—I received this quote via e-mail list serve:

"Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing."

--William Butler Yeats

And I said—that’s it! When it comes down to it, what matters most to me is the people I love (who are protected in this hypothetical fire) and the opportunity to grow (as the girl in the writing group did, as I would do regardless of what possessions I lost). The past (my journals, writings, and life) creates a base for growth, a point from which to start, but I could start from anywhere—even the basement—and grow up to the attic and beyond! No fire can touch this. No wonder I had trouble choosing something to rescue from the flames!

So now, what matters to you?