the value of our lives

In a recent CBC article, Erin Collins asked, “What would you grab with a fire breathing down your neck?” Highlighted were a few brief stories reflecting the tough choices made by many of the 80,000 evacuees of Fort McMurray, Alberta, regarding what to pack with short notice as they escaped unprecedented fires last week.

One man filled bags with anything available, from clothes to food. A family scooped up their beloved pets. Some people chose medicine or vital documents, while others held close sentimental items such as rings or awards.

As I ponder Collins’ question, I wonder what objects I would consider to be a priority in case of emergency. My list starts with communication devices and their charging accessories. A lifeline to help, crucial information and finding loved ones, a common theme I have heard among the Syrian refugees here in Canada. Would I then concern myself with food and water? Without a car, that would have to be a light load. However, as long as I wasn’t deep in the wilderness, I imagine sustenance would be available within 24 hours. Next may be a change of clothes and toiletries. As an experienced hiker/camper, I could be okay with not looking or smelling presentable, but then again, after those trips I knew that everything I eventually needed was at my home. And is that point that pauses my contemplation.

As a minimalist, I have long let go of the attachment to most things. Although I surround myself with objects that please me and serve me well, there is very little that would cause me distress if I lost them, albeit the annoyance of replacing them or the disappointment of not having the funds to do so. But, as the stories of displaced Albertans reveal, a house demolished is one thing, but leaving a community in ruins is cause to feel lost. It is the attachment to ‘home’ and the connection to purpose and wellbeing that has been disrupted. For many, there suddenly is a new future and it is uncertain at this point what that will look like. Still, it is amazing that there are many quotes in the news from evacuees, stating they are just relieved to be safe, along with their friends and family.

It is unfortunate that times like this have to happen, in order for us to assess our needs in an emergency. When the Christmas ice storm in southern Ontario two years ago made life chilly after lines were down for almost a week, and the northeastern North American blackout in 2003 cut off access to powered ATMs and gas pumps, a new layer of preparedness was added to our lives each time. We store food and water and make use of our camping supplies if need. Important documents and sensitive information are stored elsewhere for easy retrieval. Without a car, we have a meet up plan if we are separated and on foot without communication. Seems silly during sunny quiet days to think of these things but we can see that dire situations are possible. Yet even with the best planning, I don’t know how much composure I would demonstrate under that kind of pressure.

The minimalist mindset is one of consistent evaluation of mental, emotional and physical needs, to remove barriers to a satisfying life. Wellbeing is having the resources to meet challenges on all levels, leveraging choice during the easier times in life, to cope effectively when the out-of-control happens. We all have likely faced an event in our lives that knocked us sideways for awhile, or may have shifted our path irrevocably. Taking the time daily to take stock of what is important and shedding the rest can provide a form of calm stability during sudden times of uncertainty.

To feel love, notice joy and express gratitude form the foundation of the home I carry inside me.