Nearly a decade ago I read Richard Carlson’s bestseller Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and to this day the opening scene is etched in my mind: he urges readers to imagine holding their favorite coffee mug—to picture themselves sitting on the front porch, perhaps a cheerful bird is chirping in the background, lifting the cup to their lips and then—SMASH! The cup slips and shatters into tiny porcelain shards across the deck.
Or something like that.
This jarring image was meant to remind you that in the grand scheme of things, it is just a coffee cup. Life will go on. Though Carlson’s broken mug exercise has stuck with me over the years, this past September it took on new meaning as my husband and I prepared for Hurricane Florence.
As did many Wilmingtontonians, we decided to evacuate ahead of the storm. After completing all of the precautionary measures- boarding up the windows, placing sandbags along doorways, hauling every stick of furniture and potted plant into our garage- it was time to pack the car.
We moved through the house room by room trying to determine what we could fit in the car along with the dog and the cat. The one storage bin we could take with us was quickly filling up. With Florence predicted to touch down as a category four hurricane, we were preparing to lose it all.
We spent the last year making our first house a home- meticulously selecting items that were just right and fussing over how to place them (after all, that’s kind of what I do for a living); following Marie Kondo’s “spark joy” philosophy, I’ve made it my mission to only keep items in our home that make us happy. With the exception of the pile of half-worn clothes my husband likes to stash behind the closet door, I have tended to every corner and cabinet in our home with care and purpose.
For the first time since adopting this approach, I realized there was a snag with this line of thinking. When you can only take one storage bin of belongings with you, most of those beloved objects aren’t going to fit. It was a sobering and emotional realization.
We focused on our irreplaceable items: my mother’s jewelry box, my dad’s jar of marbles, the scrapbook my husband made for me when he proposed, the jars with sand collected from every beach we’ve ever been to, including the one on which we made our vows, photo albums, and the wooden whale we got in Martha’s Vineyard after deciding to leave big city life and move to a little beach town. These items were among the chosen. They made the six-hour drive with us to DC where we camped out at my in-laws for two weeks.
Like many, we sat on pins and needles, glued to the television for days while Florence strolled across the state, praying that our house would hold up. When it was finally deemed safe to return, we made our way back to Wilmington, carefully navigating the few open roads leading into the city.
When we arrived, we held our breath as we opened the front door, once again moving room-by-room through our house, unsure of what we would find. With each room, the weights that had been sitting on my chest for two weeks, lifted one by one.
There was the desk my dad made when he was fifteen. There were the dishes we spent seven years looking for before we could agree on a set. There was our comfy couch where we watch Netflix and relax after a tough day. There was that pile of half-worn clothes behind the closet door.
All of our things were there to greet us. Our home had been spared.
In the days following our return, we passed by many homes that were not so lucky. Households emptied of all their contents. Piles of belongings dumped curbside for pick up. What had once been a refuge, now a harbor of pain. The mug had fallen. And life goes on.
But perhaps those whose homes were spared will move forward with new intention: enjoying what we have in front of us instead of longing for what we don’t. Letting go of the things that are keeping us from being who we are right now. Surrounding ourselves with the things we love and honoring the special place they hold in our hearts, even if only for awhile.
Yes, be ready for the mug to drop to the floor and shatter. But also be ready to pick up the pieces and move forward.