You ask what’s important? My house burned down, a third vaporized and the rest was completely damaged by smoke and water, so I know that nothing’s important. As in: no thing. Not for one second did I miss things, but I was immediately grateful for my relationships.

The neighbors took us in as we watched the house burn. One offered us food and libations, another opened all her drawers to me and told me to start making a list of everything I owned for the insurance company. My children who lived in far-reaching corners of the world went on the Internet and sent clothes and other necessities.

My daughter-in-law found us housing and my son-in-law went on the Internet and immediately purchased a plane ticket so his wife could serve as our chief go-fer. My local daughter filled our borrowed apartment with food. Friends took us to dinner, while other friends followed me in stores as I roamed the aisles to jog my memory about what I owned. Material possessions are so unimportant that I couldn’t even remember what I owned two days previous.

We got through the numbness and unreality of those first weeks by friends and family leading us to put one foot in front of the other. Even my mother’s antique pin or my aunt’s dining room table could not have supported us during this time. We needed people to help guide us when our compasses were disrupted.

What helped us through those disorienting times were resources. I mean people resources—not possessions. Granted, it helped that we were insured, but money alone could not give us comfort.

Before the fire, I thought I would be devastated if I lost mementos from the past, but I discovered that my memories were in my mind. While the souvenirs could burn, the memories attached them were unaffected by the flames.

I thought if I lost my mother’s plates or my aunt’s stick pin, I would be bereft, but after the fire, I realized that these inheritances had never taken the place of my beloved relatives. I had lost them years before; that was the hard part. The tokens they left me were just that: tokens.

So what’s important? People and the relationships you build with them. They don’t have to be perfect and they don’t have to serve all your needs, which is a damned good thing because we aren’t perfect, nor can we fulfill everyone’s needs. What we can do is try to be pleasant and try to make the lives of everyone we meet as easy and enjoyable as possible.

We serve ourselves if we take time to greet our neighbors and do a good deed for family or friends, rather than rushing around purchasing plenty. It’s not through buying things that we create support systems; rather, it’s by taking a minute or two to help another person, ask about their lives and maybe help them. It’s human interactions that create true value, not things.

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