Prized Possessions: Why We Treasure Them and What Happens When We Lose Them?
August 24, 1992. A pivotal day in my life and that of countless others. A tropical depression in the Caribbean morphed into a hurricane. It hovered over south Florida and took with it, life and property. It was one of the most intense and damaging ever seen. Hurricane Andrew made landfall and we were at Ground Zero, next to the Homestead Naval Airbase.
We had just purchased our new home and had no equity in it; we couldn’t afford to sell it and relocate once again. I mused about being able to move back north. This was clearly one of those “be careful what you wish for” situations, thinking I should have been careful to clarify “clean, neat, easy and safe way.” Our house became uninhabitable and within six months, my wish was granted and another turning point transplanted us back to beautiful Bucks County, Pennsylvania, an hour outside of Philadelphia. The biggest blessing is that we (my husband, son, our dog, cat, rabbit and I) were safe.
After the flood waters receded, we sorted through the rubble and were able to retrieve some of what we valued. As publishers of Visions Magazine, from 1988-1998, we salvaged back copies that featured notables on the cover, such as Ben & Jerry, Shirley MacLaine, Bernie Siegel, Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Dennis Weaver, Ram Dass, and Olympia Dukakis. Although they were wet, and some pages were stuck together, they are potent reminders of the love and energy we put into the publication for 10 years.
For his birthday, my parents and I gave my husband a Peace Pole which is a 6-foot-tall obelisk that has the message, “May peace prevail on Earth,” inscribed on it in four languages. It had been in the back yard and survived the torrential rains and tumultuous winds. It followed us back to our new home in Pennsylvania in 1993. My then 5-year-old son was able to reclaim his iridescent green parachute material snake, aptly named “Snakey.” Books, music, instruments, and photographs were lost. Our furniture, clothing, most pieces of jewelry, and household décor went the way of all winds.
As resilient thrivers, we seemed to bounce back well. We had a place to go, as we stayed with my parents for a few weeks and moved temporarily to an apartment and then our new home in Pennsylvania. We had support from family and friends and our larger community. One major benefit was comprehensive insurance coverage that allowed us to replace the material goods to start anew.
Although these things matter, I am not attached to possessions, with few exceptions. On my left pinkie, I wear the ring passed on to me by my mother who died in 2010, given to her by my grandmother who died when I was four. When I look at it, it is like having them both with me. Journals are precious as they highlight 40 years of life experience; yes, I have been writing in them since college. I have more books than any other type of item in my eclectically decorated home. When I gaze around in each room, I behold things received as gifts from loved ones and some I purchased for myself. They enhance my life and remind me of my connection with the people who gave them to me.
What prompted this inquiry was the NPR show 1A on November 27, 2018. The topic was The Things That Matter Most and it highlighted the innate or imbued value of the keepsakes. Joshua Johnson’s dedicated, and knowledgeable guests were: Jennifer Battle, a Hurricane Harvey survivor and program director of crisis services at The Harris Center, Christian Burgess, director of Disaster Distress Helpline in Houston, and Bill Shapiro, author of the book What We Keep.
Each of them offered wise guidance for ways we see our belongings as extensions of ourselves, memories can’t be replaced, certain items provide comfort, and offer a sense of connection to our past and the people in it. Most people who lose belongings, whether through natural or human made disaster, would say that the financial value of the items is far outweighed by the sentimental value.