The Things We Carry
Last night at 2:32am the fire alarm in my building went off. This is not one of those get-the-ladder-and-press-the-button alarms, but a building-wide system, whose blare penetrated every square foot and eardrum in the building and requires the super to turn off. My wife and I threw some clothes on ourselves and infant son, tossed the cat into his travel box, I made sure I had my phone and wallet and we headed out the door.
The building’s residents congregated in the outside doorway, clad in their winter coats and pajamas. The fire department eventually arrived. They reported that there was no danger. After their coast-is-clear confirmation, we shuffled back to our apartments.
Beyond gratitude for the safety for all parties concerned (we appreciate that these situations can turn tragic), the experience revealed a few things about our relationship to stuff:
- We didn’t really consider stuff until after the incident ended; we were only concerned about making sure the baby and cat were safe.
- If we could only take what we could carry, my wife, who is a designer, said she would take her old photos, her computer, whose harddrive contains most of her professional portfolio and a vintage teddy bear. I would take my harddrive which holds all of my non-cloud stored files and some sculptures my father gave us. These were the only items we considered irreplaceable.
- Useful stuff trumps “valuable” stuff. When contemplating the second tier of things we would take from our smoldering home, both of us thought of the stuff we use everyday. My wife, who has a fondness for nice eyeglass frames, intuitively grabbed her most versatile pair, the ones with the neutral style and whose lenses tint in the sunlight. She would also grab her diaper bag/purse, a few pair of her favorite jeans and the designer peacoat she’s had for years. I would grab the Outlier pants I wear daily, my EMS soft-shell winter jacket that keeps me dry and thermoregulated from 25-70 degrees, my yellow waterproof Ortlieb backpack, my vintage Basso that has become my main commuter bike (both pictured above) and, if I could lift it, our cast iron pan. Expensive cocktail dresses, jewelry, wool suits, even most of our artwork, took backseat to the things we use day in, day out.
How about you? What would you take with you? Have you a been in a situation where you had to flee your home? What did you take, if anything? What did you learn about your relationship to stuff? We’d love to hear.