Immediately after we lost our house to the fire, I found four plastic cups in the back of our van. They were the cups from my now 19 year-old niece’s 8th birthday party. They were treasure.
I stood at the back of the van clutching the cups to my chest and sobbed. Even now I feel the sad joy that I experienced knowing that there were things that were connected to us in the world other than what we escaped with. We had a few clothes, the hard drives, our passports and legal papers, our dog and each other. We knew there things in the van like my husband’s golf clubs but they were not sentimental things that reminded us of our family history. I never thought to see anything that was my family’s history again. Then I found the cups. After I got over the jolt of finding the cups, which we had been using for camping cups, I rummaged through the van to look for other treasure. Never have I been so glad that my spouse (and I) used the van as a sports locker. We found 3 1/2 pairs of boots. We found socks. We found hats, CDs and walking sticks. We found our dog’s seat covers, seat belt, hiking harness and sled dog harness that we use sometimes in the winter. We found fishing gear. We found photography lights. I even found two bottles of fingernail nourishing camouflage product to cover the ridges in my fingernails that I have acquired with age and to strengthen my always fragile nails. We found a world of things.
The world of things were literally that. They were the things that made up our world. Since that time rummaging through the van looking for evidence of our old lives, we have found evidence of ourselves in other places. I found a storage basket that I had never particularly liked in my office full of tea bags; I liked it now. I found a small rather battered but old dog bowl. I found shoes and slippers at our Mom’s house. We found a travel fleece blanket of Sophie’s and two of her dog toys. We found one of my well loved travel packing bags full of dog treats there too.
Each thing has multiple values. First there is the value of the item on the open market. At a flea market you could buy our plastic cups for 25 cents. My shoes might bring $5 and my boots $10. The dog gear cold bring $50.
Like the Visa commercials, they are priceless to us. I guard them. They are our reminders of how we lived the ordinary parts of our ordinary lives before we became acquainted with an extraordinary fire that required extraordinary resilience from us.
As I have been shopping for a home loan, I heard the story of a loan office employee who had lost everything in a fire. After a time he came back to work, sat down at his desk and began to sob. His colleagues immediate response what the he came back to work too soon. What they discovered twas that he had pictures of his children on his desk. He had left a part of himself out in the world and it came back as a priceless treasure.
After so many months I thought we had emptied the van of all our unexpected treasure. I was wrong. Four days ago I was rummaging in the van for one of the bottles of nail polish I had. What I found was a Ziploc with a necklace and dog treats in it. I thought long and hard about how that combination came to be. Finally I remembered. I had the necklace on and the chain kept coming undone. Since I did not like the necklace very much I decided as we were driving to work that I was just as happy not to wear it that day. I did not have any place to put it. I found a Ziploc bag with two chicken jerky treats that must have been there from a camping trip. I vaguely remember tossing the necklace into the treat bag and then to that bottomless set of pockets under a car radio.
We have learned from this that our connection to the physical material culture of our existence that we must recognize that our presence extends outward and we have a self-imposed breach of our personal security firewalls. We have learned that that is ok. We leave left bits and pieces of the detritus of our lives here and there. When you see them for what they are, each thing is a treasure. This hunt to find these things is far more than a scavenger hunt. It is a treasure trove. We understand their meaning more and we feel rich.