Things happened over the past few weeks which have made me muse on, what shall I say, the meaning of life or something deep-sounding like that?
The first was a particularly grisly murder about twenty minutes drive from here in Los Cristianos, a town in which I used to work, in fact, it took place in the adjacent building to where I worked. A woman was stabbed and beheaded by a madman. It goes without saying that one’s first thought is to express deep sympathy for her family. Untimely death of a loved one is bad enough to endure without it being so horrific, and I can’t even begin to imagine what it will take for them to recover from the news.
The victim was around my age, and for a day afterwards my Facebook profile and my phone’s message inbox were receiving messages asking me to check in as the news spread around the world. I think it shook up most everyone in the area because it was so random and unpredictable. It’s like, no matter how carefully you drive, the accident you can’t avoid is the idiot who steams up behind you whilst text messaging and slams on his brakes too late. There’s not a lot you can do. I could happen to anyone. As it happened, I went to see off a friend at the airport that morning, and then drove into Los Cristianos to go to my accountant’s office, which is in that adjacent building. Had I not gone to the airport I would have been there at the time the murder happened and not a half hour later, (seeing the crowds and lack of parking I decided to leave my business until Monday, and turned for home) which made me realize that we, simply, never know when something might happen.
Holding that thought tight, because it confirms the knowledge that we should live each day, each moment, as if it might be our last. Me, I procrastinate too much, far too much, but what if there is no tomorrow to do the things I put off?
The second news story has been this bizarre prediction about the “Rapture.” I didn’t for even one second believe that the world would come to an end May 21st, but you have to admit that this year has been a very newsworthy one so far, and most of it not good stuff, sad to say. Earthquakes from Japan to Turkey to Spain; tsunami; riots in Tunisia and Egypt, countries with a healthy tourist trade up until then – I’m talking here about things which might happen to those of us living “ordinary” lives, not reporting from hotspots; floods and tornadoes in the US of unprecedented magnitude. The list is already heavy and we aren’t even half way through 2011 yet, and these are events in which any of us or our friends or families might have easily been caught up in.
For those of us with wanderlust the most difficult thing to weigh is being thousands of miles away from people we love when something bad happens, whether it’s to us or our loved ones. What was your first reaction on 9/11 once you’d taken in the breadth of what happened? Mine was to contact my son who wasn’t home (the other one was) and other people close to me. It wasn’t that I thought that they were likely to have been there in New York (though some had been just a week before), it was a need to let them know I cared and make sure they were ok – you know, just in case, because you don’t know what might happen tomorrow.
I was in the Florida Keys in the summer of 1996, driving back from Key West to Key Largo with the boys. We’d had enough of driving and thought it might be fun to stop, buy some handheld line and hooks, and fish and picnic for a while, so we pulled into the parking of a small tackle shop. The owner was really kind and helpful and we got to chatting. Hurricane Bertha was approaching, and it was the main topic of conversation wherever you went. I asked him how worried he was, and he told me that some years before he and his family lived in South Carolina, and had lost everything when Hugo had hit. It taught him a lesson. They learned about what was really important in their lives. They relocated, but still on the hurricane path, and now they kept a chest, which contained all the things they considered really valuable in their lives, and if Bertha continued on the track she was then on, threatening the Keys, they would simply load that chest into their truck and head to a shelter.
I talked about my own “moment of truth” before, here. It was as we were on the cusp of emigrating, and everything we were bringing with us was en route, stored at the moment in a warehouse on Preston docks. The weather had been filthy all summer, a justification (as if we needed one!) for our impending move. Sleep was eluding me as I fretted about those possessions no longer under our control. That was when things came into focus, and I began to understand the value of things. Everything I really cared about, basically, my children, was under the same roof, sleeping peacefully and happily, and anything else was just “stuff.”
Makes you think, doesn’t it – about what’s really important in our lives? There’s an awful lot of talk about minimalism these days, about living with 100 things or ten things or whatever, ridding yourself of possessions, living for the moment, but to be truthful, I find a lot of it irritating. I did “downsize” (and continue to do so from time to time) when my nest emptied. Now it’s about what I feel comfortable with. If someone has worked and saved to buy the car of their dreams, then why should they be made to doubt the legitimacy of their enjoyment? If I want to splurge on a designer handbag (assuming I had the money, of course!) then why should I feel guilty? If we stop buying then manufacturing jobs are lost, whether it’s in a state-of-the-art car factory in Germany or a housewife stringing beads in her home in South Africa. As it happens I’d choose a ticket to just about anywhere over a designer whatever, but that’s not my point. Almost anything we do, or don’t do, has an effect on someone else these days. Travellers keep airlines, hostels, hotels, train lines etc in business, people who are into fashion ensure employment in countries thousands of miles away – OK, yes I know working conditions in some of those countries are deplorable, but that’s for another day, today is about keeping stuff in perspective.
The problem is not with the possessions themselves, it’s with our attitude to them. After that stormy night prior to emigrating I had a much better sense of priorities, and that insight has been invaluable in the years in between. So many things are just not worth angsting over, but people almost always are, their real happiness, welfare, education, freedom, respect. It’s been a revelation and puzzlement to me that people I’ve met in recent years who have, literally, nothing are the ones with the broadest smiles. It has to be all about attitude, the glass half full syndrome. When we have a truckload of possessions those possessions can become a barrier between us and the world, or between us and happiness. If we are worrying about losing them or damaging them all the time, then we don’t have the pleasure of enjoying them. Everything passes. We should enjoy our possessions if we have worked hard for them, but we should never lose sight of what is truly important. We should keep them in perspective, and enjoy them today so long as we aren’t hurting anyone in doing so, because, well, you never know what tomorrow may bring.