Let's say you wake up and everything you own is gone. Would you have the courage to start all over? To get rid of everything you own and rebuild a new life somewhere else? Say goodbye to your HD TV, the cute boots you bought to go with your jeans, your favorite hunting rifle. Could you do it?
It's hard to fathom the depth of this scenario until it is forced upon you. I have a hard time answering the question. Could I just leave behind all my worldly possessions and start over? Well, sure I could.
But, could I really? Could I leave my paintings, my rock collection (yes, I collect rocks), my shoes, my warm coat, my espresso maker? What would that feel like? I would definitely feel out of sorts but exactly how I would get through it is hard to say.
We recently reflected on what we are thankful for. On Nov. 22, America celebrates Thanksgiving with their friends and family. On Nov. 23, America stays up all night to rush retail outlets and big box giants, knocking over anything in the way including people, just to save $2 on a toaster. What does this say about us as a society?
During our family Thanksgiving dinner I had a chance to catch up with my Aunt Emily, a woman who has dedicated her life to taking care of her family and more recently, to helping others as an EMS worker. She just returned from a mission to assist with disaster relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy. She and other emergency response professionals from around the country volunteered to head east into the unknown as the storm approached and everyone else was heading west. She didn't know exactly what she would be doing once they arrived or exactly what city or state they would travel to. Not only was it an adventure, but also the lesson of a lifetime.
While looking over pictures Emily brought back from the trip it was evident that we have a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to question regarding the focus of our lives as a developed nation. The pictures showed absolute devastation. Entire cities flooded. Entire communities covered with mountains of sand washed in with the surge. Entire neighborhoods burned to the ground. With somber emotion she shared stories of families she met who couldn't go back to their homes because they had burned, or their homes would have to be torn down, or they had to figure out how to get four inches of sand out of their first floor. She also shared the story of a fire department that was flooded almost up to the second floor. Not missing a beat, the crew crawled out the second floor windows, climbed into zodiac boats and sped off on the water to rescue trapped survivors with homes underwater and retrieve bodies of those who didn't make it, some of whom they had known personally.
It's 2012. We have cured hundreds of diseases with modern medical advances. We can order a book or a cake plate, or even a pair of mittens on our phone. Yet there are still some things we can't outsmart. Some things that could take everything we have and literally, bury it.
Take a look at what you surround yourself with. Why do you have so much material stuff? Did you buy it just because you had the money? Because it was neat or interesting? Because you found it at a good discount? Why do you drive the kind of car you drive? Why do you live in the kind of house you live in? Why do you wear the kind of clothes you wear? If it were all gone tomorrow how would you feel? Many of us define our lives and our self-image through these material possessions.
In reality, if we are living a balanced and thoughtful life we shouldn't feel anything if our material possessions were taken away. What should be most important is our personal character and integrity and the bonds we have with other humans; our love for our family, our friends, and our community.
So my challenge to you after you finish reading this column is this: Evaluate your focus. While people on the east coast rebuild, much like Hurricane Katrina victims had to rebuild, think about how you define yourself and what you focus on as priorities in your life. What are you truly thankful for? Do the people in your life know that you care about them? Yes, I'm sure they know you care. But do they know that you would stand by them if they lost everything?
Who would stand with you if you lost everything?
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town appears bi-weekly on Tuesdays.