You know that question about what you would take if your house was on fire and you could only grab one or two things? I've thought about that a lot over the years, probably because I was a once firefighter and saw how quickly a building burns once a fire starts.
Also because it's an intriguing question.
Most people used to say they would take their photo albums, but now everything is in The Cloud, I think, so we don't have to save books full of pictures. Actually, no one I know makes photo albums anymore, which is a shame. No one I know really understands what "the cloud" is, either, which is kind of funny. I see immense potential for humor in there. Maybe when we die we'll be floating in and out of The Cloud, surrounded by everyone's pictures and voice memos and email.
Anyway, the one thing I have always imagined myself grabbing in the event of a fire is a soup ladle given to me by Bea Gasque about 23 years ago.
It's not that I eat a lot of soup or anything like that. It's a beautiful silver ladle, long-handled with a spoon-end that's reminiscent of a seashell, sort of. It's a well-crafted, sturdy, elegant tool. But that's not why I would want to take it with me if everything was going up in flames. I would take it because it reminds me of Bea.
Bea was a tiny little woman who lived alone in the woods in a big, modern house in Rupert, Vermont. Her husband had died when we met, but that didn't stop her from loving life and being cheery, all the time. Nor did the fact that she was severely hunched-over, so much so that you had to get down very low to the floor to see Bea's face. Bea was the kind of person who made you never want to leave her side, just so you could see what she was going to do next. She was funny as hell and told great stories. After Bea sold her Vermont house she moved to Florida full-time, and I visited her there once when I was pregnant with Sam.
On that occasion we went out to dinner together, with a friend of hers. By then Bea was losing her vision in addition to her height, but that didn't stop her from ordering the two things on the menu that a tiny person who is nearly blind and severely stooped-over shouldn't order: shrimp cocktail that came in a tall parfait glass, and Alaskan King Crab legs.
It didn't phase her. Bea laughed her way through the whole meal. She couldn't really reach the shrimp hanging off the side of the glass, and she had trouble cracking the shells to get to the meat of the crab, but she didn't get frustrated. She found humor in everything.
So, you see, the ladle...every time I look at it or use it, which I do quite often, I think of Bea. She gave it to me as a wedding present in 1993. She didn't buy something new or fancy; she didn't consult our registry. She gave me something that was hers, that she had used and loved, and I have loved it ever since.
Recently I gave away two things I loved. I will tell you quite honestly that it wasn't easy. It made me realize how very attached we become to things in this life.
To my young friend, Sawyer, I gave a bear claw necklace that had been made for me by a Tiwa Indian who has a shop in the Taos Pueblo. I wore it whenever I felt I needed strength or courage. I wore it because it reminded me of a place I love. But when Sawyer's beloved grandmother, Joanie, died last year, I had a feeling he could use the claw, so I took it off and gave it to him after Joanie's memorial service in Brattleboro.
To my good friend, Simone, I gave a blown-glass ball that was given to me by my friend, Judy Myerson, about 16 years ago, the year I had her son, Jesse, in my fourth grade class. Judy was colorful and kind and she had a head of curly, wild hair. I remember so well her smile and her warmth, her honesty and generosity. She died a few years after giving me that Christmas gift, and I thought of her whenever my eyes rested on the colorful glass.
Simone moved to California and a few weeks back someone among us, Lauren, I think, came up with the great idea of sending Simone a gift package of things that would tell her how much we miss and love her. I thought for a few minutes of what I could buy for Simone...nothing. Nothing that would tell her how much I miss seeing her here in Vermont, how much I miss her voice and her tallness and her hugs. Then I thought...what would be the hardest thing for me to give away? What do I have that Simone might need? And I thought of the glass ball that Judy gave me and I knew it was time to pass it on.
I think of those two things from time to time, the bear claw and the glass ball. Sometimes I miss seeing them, but I'm happy that they are having a new life with someone else. For me they carried love –– love of a place and love of a person, and that was really what I was passing on. Sawyer didn't need a necklace and Simone didn't need a glass ball, but, like everyone, they came to a time in their life when they needed some extra love and protection.
Imagine, if you can, something you love very much that would be hard for you to part with. Perhaps an object you have held onto for many years. Maybe something someone you love gave you. Ask yourself: what would be the hardest thing for me to give away? And then give it away. Maybe it's a thing, something you have cherished for many years that has brought you joy, or maybe it's your time, maybe it's you. These are the true gifts. This is what Christmas should be. Amen.