I listen to NPR a lot ...not for hours at a chunk, as my commute is all of seven minutes, but I do get various snippets during the day and then larger chunks via podcast.
This morning, they were interviewing people who had lost everything they owned in the southern California wildfires. The parade of voices spanned the breadth of society - the single mom, the family of four, the man who'd bought his first house in August. Almost without exception they said similar things: We don't know what we're going to do. They were not talking about where they were going to go in the next twenty minutes - they were speaking of being directionless on the larger scale. They did not know what to do in life.
It's understandable, really. Most of us would feel the same way. Many of them lost every earthly possession they had, including baby photos, financial records and family heirlooms. There is an inescapable sense of vulnerability that comes with this sort of loss Part of it is trauma and the shock that comes with seeing one's home reduced to a pile of rubble, but there's more to this sense of "What do I do now?"
I attribute it to our unspoken false belief that we are our possessions. We have grown accustom to identifying one another via some sort of socio-economic shorthand. It's easier to make assumptions about people based on what they drive and where they live than it is by connecting with them on a heart level. Knowing we do this to others, we quickly learn to play the game, and our possessions become personality expressions - in some cases, they become replacements for personality all together. We shape our image by adopting the images we wish to be. We express ourselves through our consumer choices. We are not our own. We are our AmEx bill.
Imagine the complete destruction of all those purchases. If they're gone, who are we? Do we know who to be when we're separated from our wardrobe and accessories of life?
My heart went out to those people this morning. Despair is never a pretty thing, and I can't imagine the emotions they're going through. My heart also turned on itself for a minute. How much of Randy Bohlender is branding and how much is substance?
It's a good question to ask oneself before the fire comes.