What is really important to you?
Having been given the order to evacuate, my cousin put some things in his truck and waited. His apartment is located in Talent, near I-5 in southern Oregon, in the middle of where fires swept through beginning at the northern edges of Ashland and reaching into the southern edges of Medford, before it was stopped. With his truck running to keep his laptop and phone charged, he used his phone’s wi-fi hotspot to listen to fire & police scanners on his laptop, in an effort to discover how the fire and all the various efforts to stop it were progressing.
As he sat and waited, he could hear propane tanks and electrical transformers exploding, over and over. Over the tops of trees and the roofs of some town houses he watched the glowing orange light and billowing smoke of the fire seeming to be very near, pushed along by a strong wind, not sure for several hours if it was passing by or coming closer. The glow and light of the fire would flare up, the smoke even blacker against the night sky, whenever a structure burned – someone’s home or business.
Nearly all in his apartment complex had evacuated, but one neighbor returned, saying all the roads were a mess due to road closures and backed up traffic. The neighbor went to bed, knowing my cousin would come get him if the fire got too close.
He sent me several texts reassuring me he was fine and not to worry – that all was in God’s hands. Around 3 am, when it finally became clear the fire was not coming any further in his direction, he went into his apartment and to bed, after being in the front seat of his truck watching the fire for over eight hours.
When I talked with him on the phone early the next morning, he said he was happy to be alive, with his furnishings and personal belongings intact, and with a place to live. My father and I were happy about that too!
Through it all, I kept wondering, “what did he pack to take with him?”
What is most important to you? This seems to be the question the year 2020 is asking us. Fires, floods, hurricanes, civil unrest, COVID … all asking the same question.
Of course, that has always been THE question, but the rapid-fire succession of tragedies and disasters these last couple years seems to be heightening and intensifying our awareness of what really matters most. At least for some of us.
I find it difficult to assign degrees of importance to the items and furnishings in my home most of which belonged to my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Gifts from my sons and grandchildren have just as much significance and value to me as do the family heirlooms. Everywhere I turn, I am surrounded by mementos and keepsakes that connect me to the beloveds in my life. If I had to evacuate, what would I take with me? What would you take?
What did he take?
I was pretty sure I knew and my suspicions were confirmed when we talked and I asked — a few changes of clothing, a winter coat, sandals in addition to the shoes he was wearing, some bedding and pillows for the back of his truck, toiletries and shave gear, important documents, A Course In Miracles, laptop, cell phone, iPad, tea, water and means to heat water, and a little bit of food. That’s all.
He also said: “Even if I could have somehow chosen just the very few personal things I had room for beyond the basics, out of all the many and various sacred belongings that shaped, informed and gave meaning to the inner dimensions of my home and the long and intricate weavings of my life, it would diminish and dishonor all that I could not take. If my past and its symbols and representations were to burn, then all of it needed to go together, to keep each other company.”
Ultimately, the precarious nature of just having the very simple essentials—food, water, clothing, shelter—especially in light of cataclysmic events, should give all of us plenty of pause for gratitude.
After my cousin’s experience, and watching on-line through social media platforms how his community is coming together to help one another, my heart has been finely tuned to gratitude.
My father has always said the vast majority of people are good at heart.
My cashier at Martins on Monday morning was genuinely and sincerely kind as we chatted about life. She asked me if the number of canned fruits she placed in one bag was acceptable, not wanting it to be too heavy for me to carry. I have never been asked that before, which I said to her. She explained that she asked the same of a gentleman who appeared to be of a muscular stature and he had replied ‘no’ because of a shoulder injury. She gladly put fewer cans in separate bags to ease his burden.
Margie—that is her name—said, “we shouldn’t judge people because we don’t know what they might be going through.” I heartily agreed with her.
Additionally, I found out that both of her parents had died at the age of 66; so now when she and each of her siblings reach the age of 67, they have and will celebrate with a big party. Remembering this now puts a smile on my face.
After this early morning cheery conversation, I used my Martins points to get gas. As I was getting out of my truck, the attendant approached the pump with a bag of cat food. While we exchanged ‘good mornings’ she filled the bowl that was under a cinder block display of windshield wiper fluid. Her thoughtfulness was deeply touching.
Gratitude can heighten our awareness to kindness and goodness. Gratitude can make all our words and actions more poignant and every breath precious. Gratitude is an act of humility and selflessness that assumes nothing but compassion and generosity for and towards all God’s beloveds—all creatures great and small.
Just like a fish in water, gratitude should be the environment in which we walk out our trust in God.
This is a lesson the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk highlights. Known as the “complainer” by many Christians, Habakkuk spends most of his short book complaining to God about the coming destruction and judgement of the nation of Israel by the Babylonians which took place during the sixth century BCE.
After spending much of three chapters fussing and grumbling to God, he ends with this:
For even if the fig tree doesn’t blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines,
even if the olive tree fails to produce,
and the fields yield no food at all,
even if the sheep vanish from the sheep pen,
and there are no cows in the stalls;
still, I will rejoice in ADONAI,
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
ELOHIM Adonai is my strength!
He makes me swift and sure-footed as a deer
and enables me to stride over my high places.
Verse 19 in another translation reads:
The Sovereign LORD is my source of strength.
He gives me the agility of a deer;
he enables me to negotiate the rugged terrain.
Most of, if not all, the time …
It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world. Mary Oliver