Rebuilding in the Appalachian Spirit
Along with the 17,000 acres of land that were torched in the recent wildfires, 2,000 structures also went up in flames. The people of Appalachia are resilient and resourceful; they will rebuild. This post is offered to all those who are rebuilding - cabins, condos, spirits, and souls.
Unplanned upheaval is usually a very challenging thing. Not only are all your practical possessions in a state of chaos (or, in some instances, no longer extant right down to one's toothbrush), but one's emotions are all caught up in the mess, as well. We humans tend to cling to "stuff" not because Great Aunt Ova's deviled egg platter is made of irreplaceable fine see-through bone china, but because Great Aunt Ova's cracked, faded, cheap, heavy stoneware deviled egg platter carried decades of memories along with the slippery sliding paprika-sprinkled egg halves that appeared at every July 4th family reunion since nineteen ought seven. The same egg platter that now resides in shattered slivers buried deep in the ash mountain that was, until last week, "home." Not my home. But someone's home, someone's egg platter, someone's Great Aunt, like my own Great Aunt Ova. Who names their daughter "Ova" anyway?
In similar fashion, those who live in posh three-story brick homes, complete with six gables of designer-approved varying pitch to add "interest" to the roofline - and the mortgage - yet not a whit to the utility of the underlying structure, those folks are presently pulling matching red-and-green totes (red bottoms with green lids, or vice versa, to be precise) from their bonus rooms and attics, and laboring long and competitively to decorate said posh home with yards of glittery tulle, oversized bows, and twinkle lights. Some folks do this because they truly love festooning their home with the reason for the season. (*eyeroll*) Many, however, (I suspect) go through this annual ritual simply to avoid experiencing any "less than" negativity by anyone - either implied or overt. "Hi, Cathy," (sung out as cheery neighbor-next-door is floofing the final ribbon on her mailbox), "Target has tulle and ribbon on sale THIRTY PERCENT OFF this week! Just thought you'd want to know!" (implied). "Hi, Cathy," (sung out ditto), "Everyone else has their decorations up already; just let me know if you want me to help you get yours done - I'd be happy to help!" (overt).
And a Merry Christmas to you, too.
Like Aunt Ova's egg platter, these totesfull of decorations can carry decades-long burdens of when Uncle Frank got so drunk on Christmas Eve 1948, and when little Janie was so very ill with encephalitis during the holidays of 1964 they gave her her Christmas presents early because nobody thought she would live to celebrate Jesus' birthday that year. And the spilt eggnog and split families and so. much. pain.
For some, Christmas 2016 is going to be a time of forced re-centering. They have zero physical possessions left aside from the clothes they were wearing when they escaped the flames. Ponder that for a moment. Look around your own home. What if it were all gone? ALL of it. Right down to the last, overpriced, pre-made velvet bow. Your greatgrandmother's diamond brooch. Your dirty stockings from last Sunday. That potholder you don't like but keep anyway because Maggie made it when she was in kindergarten. The fifth pair of tennis shoes you bought, just because you loved the neon pink color. The perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet. The little stuffed lobster from Frankie. The Steinway. Papa's favorite chair. The wisp of mane from Sam. The Bible. No, not the pristine new black one - well, yes, that one too, but the beautiful grey leather Bible that you've used for years and has all your notes and highlighter markings in it. THAT Bible. And the little white one you were given at your infant christening - that one, too. They're all gone. All. Gone.
What is one left with, when absolutely every single material possession is irretrievably lost?
What is one left with when you've so overburdened your surroundings with "stuff" that neither your home nor your soul can breathe?
With zero possessions, one surely feels a sense of vulnerability. Unsafe. Too much space and nothing of "me" in it.
With a glut of possessions, I know for a fact one feels a sense of vulnerability. Unsafe. No space to breathe and I'm choking from the weight of it all.
As my neighbors who must rebuild their homes begin to reconstruct their lives, my prayer for you is that you cherish the sense of space that has been forced upon you. When we feel vulnerable, it is so easy to clasp anything and everything (and everyone) close to you out of fear. Instead, I hope each passing day provides sufficient stability so you can listen to your spirit and discern, for each prospective item, "do I need this? Does it bring my soul joy?"
As my neighbors who are decorating their homes begin to open up the holiday totes, my prayer for you is that you seek a sense of space amongst all the "floof." When we feel overwhelmed, it is so easy to just keep everything and not weed out the excess. For you, I hope each passing day provides sufficient impetus so you, too, can listen to your spirit and discern, for each prospective item, "do I need this? Does it bring my soul joy?"
This has nothing whatsoever to do with magic or "tidying up" - although for some it will certainly equate to a tidier physical space. This is about clearing away sufficient materialism and consumerism so one's spirit has room to breathe, to grow, to dance. The abundant success of America since the 1980s has brought with it such rampant consumerism - fueled in no small part by all types of media and advertising - we, as a people, buy "stuff" just because other folks have bought the same "stuff."
Perhaps our best purge/purchase decisions arise from these two simple questions. Perhaps we should be asking these questions not only about material possessions, but also about jobs and relationships and volunteer commitments and all the other things that take up the 86,400 seconds we are blessed with every day.
Two simple questions that demand such courage and honesty it takes a monumentally strong human to even ask them.
Do I need this?
Does it bring my soul joy?