Just a few hours before Hurricane Isaac stormed inland and began its slow, misery-causing march across Louisiana and Mississippi, I was sitting in Atlanta traffic, switching stations on the car radio, trying to find a report on the path of the hurricane. In the process, I caught the tail end of an interview with a woman who, along with her family, was being evacuated from an area just southeast of New Orleans.
“What are you taking with you?” the news reporter asked her.
“I am just about to get to that,” she answered.
While I was breaking though the traffic bottleneck and heading home in a light rain, she was entering her home for the last time before the unwelcome guests of wind and water slammed through with all their destructive power. How vulnerable we are, and how arbitrary life is.
The whole thing broke my heart and made me feel helpless. All I could think to do was to pray for the woman and her family and for all who stood in harm’s way. On their behalf, I claimed the promise of the Psalmist: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change. . .though its waters roar and foam. . .The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
Later, I thought about what I would gather up if disaster were on the way. Here is the list of the first five things I’d grab:
My mother’s Bible, given to her by her mother, who received it from my favorite uncle on Christmas Day, 1925.
The ring with the tiny (I mean, really tiny) diamond that I keep in my jewelry box. My husband of 47 years gave it to me when we were Juniors in college. He sold his beloved stamp collection to buy it for me.
Our children’s baby books (Okay, so that’s two.)
A photograph of our grandchildren.
A small, clay lamp from the First Century C.E. that I bought in Tel Aviv years ago. Light from these little oil lamps kept people going during the dark days of the Roman Empire.
I could put all of this in one small tote bag, with room to spare.
Why don’t you make your own list of what you would gather up if disaster fell upon you and your house? (Don’t include items that are necessary for health or hygiene, or legal documents, and things like that.) What would be irreplaceable to you and your loved ones? Making my list turned out to be a very clarifying exercise, reminding me of how little all our “stuff” matters and how important love and memory are.
I hope the lady on the radio and her family are okay. I imagine them finding a dry place, perhaps an emergency shelter in a school gymnasium. I hope she was able to carry with her those few things that matter most, or more precisely, that remind her of what matters most. I am glad that she and her family still have one another. I am glad they have their good memories from the past and hope for what might yet come to be.
The intangibles: they are all that matters when the storms come, as they so often do.