As of this week I’ve filled eighty-six small to medium sized boxes that are light enough for a sixty-three year old woman in good health to lift with relative ease. Each box is numbered, the contents roughly noted on a Google spreadsheet. In twelve weeks – give or take a few days – those boxes that I’ve filled with treasures, junk, books – oh so many books – cookware and memories will be loaded onto a truck by a couple of burly strangers and driven across the country.
When I was young a move required nothing more than a backpack and a few boxes. I had my life pared down to bare necessities and when the weight of possession became too much I happily gave it away. But to flit about as I did in my youth required a lightness for which I no longer yearn. What I want now, more than anything, is an anchor. I want to feel tied to a place and a people. I want a home. I want family and the sense of belonging that’s alluded me since the days when I was able to pack almost everything I owned into a cardboard box.
I feel some guilt around my selfish wants. I know there is a difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need’. I have everything I need and for that I’m grateful. But still, I want these things. Wanting pretty things like porcelain teacups from Japan. Wanting furniture made from wood and not multi-density fiberboard. Wanting a dining room table with extendable leaves and room enough for my beloved’s sisters, his nieces and nephews and their children. Cloaked around the knowledge that it can be taken away without warning is a deep want for stability. But this morning I’m wondering if a stability is determined by your environment or how you experience your environment.
What’s interesting about the process of packing is that as our moving date approaches we’re finding it easier to let go. But I struggle with the precious things. The little things. The tchotchkes that serve no purpose but are the keepers of such potent memories. The carnival chalk ware figurines I found at a car boot sale in Letterkenny, County Donegal twenty years ago. The elf shaped, never-been-burned three inch candle that my beloved keeps at his desk and refuses to abandon. What do we do with the precious things and what would our lives be without them?
The things we choose to keep around us tell our story. They remind us of the places we’ve been, the people we’ve loved, the dreams we’ve lost and the dreams that came true.
But if I had to chose between these things and my life I would abandon everything without question in order to survive. What must it be like, do you think, to be forced to do that with a moment’s notice? What must it be like to wake up to the sound of explosions and to realize that everything you know, everything you assume will always be there – the school, the hospital, the corner market – is about to be destroyed?
For five weeks we’ve watched missiles rain down on homes that look like the homes we live in and on cities that look like the cities we love. Two weeks ago we saw a mother with her two children, two family dogs and the family friend leading them to safety. One moment they were alive and when the dust cleared they were dead. What did they carry with them? If we opened Tetiana’s rolling suitcase what would we find? What precious toy did her daughter Alise find room for in her backpack? What book was so important to Mykyta that he would choose to carry it with him on their futile attempt to escape a savage war?
What would you bring? What book would you carry?