Awhile ago I wrote or tweeted (or both), asking people what item they’d save if their house was on fire. I think everyone took me a bit too literally because the only person who replied said something along the lines of: “as long as the kids are ok I’m not grabbing anything.”
Just so we’re perfectly clear, I would never advocate digging through boxes in the basement while your home is collapsing around you. So allow me to rephrase: Is there something in your possession that has special value to you? If so, what is it? What is the story?
I was thinking about this a lot last week while we were sorting though our old things for a pending garage sale. What things should we keep? And why should we keep them? It occurred to me that sentimental things are only valuable if we know the stories behind them.
My mother, bless her heart, has been know to hold on to things like plastic drinking straws. She’s a very tidy hoarder. She held on to those straws for 25 years thinking someone might use them someday. I’m more of a sentimentalist. I tossed the straws my mother bequeathed to me but kept my grandmother’s old playing cards, the ones my grandmother – her mother – played solitaire with for many years before she passed away.
You know what the sad thing is? When I’m dead and gone no one will know the stories behind the things that are the most special to me.
When I was 17 I was travelling alone to the Czech Republic. I was going to be staying with my grandmother, but getting there was a big scary adventure for me. I didn’t know if I could do it. How could I possibly make my way through the mess that is the Toronto airport, fly across the ocean, and find my way in a totally foreign city? What’s worse, I was afraid of flying. I’ve always believed that I’m going to come to a fiery end some day.
Happy stuff eh? This is what I was thinking about after I locked myself in a toilet stall somewhere in the depths of Lester B. Pearson International Airport, where I was so wracked with anxiety that I thought I was going to toss my cookies. Or just stay there. Forever. I’d never prayed very much before, after all, we weren’t churchgoing folks, but it seemed to be a good time to send out a quick SOS to any higher power that happened to be listening to a teenager in an airport restroom.
Please give me a sign that this is all going to turn out ok.
At that moment I looked down towards the empty stall beside me. There, lying on the floor, was a piece of a wooden toy train. It wasn’t there before, and there was no owner in sight. I picked it up. It was warm. This was the sign I needed in order to continue my journey. I put it in my pocket, happy, and boarded the plane.
And you know what, I didn’t crash and burn. My trip turned out to be life-altering (in a good way), the kind of adventure that an almost 18-year old SHOULD take on her own because it will change her forever.
It sounds silly now that I see it in black and white in front of me, but that toy train was the talisman I needed. I’ve held on to it ever since, and I still bring it with me when I travel.
If you were to ask me whether I believed in good luck charms I’d say no, thinking that maybe you were talking about rabbit’s feet, pressed clovers, or hairy trolls standing sentry over bingo cards. But my little train, that’s different. And if my house was on fire and it was in clear view and I knew my kids were safe, that’s what I’d grab.