I guess everyone has their “snatch this from a burning house” stash – objects precious to them that they would never throw away.
I think I must be less sentimental than most people. Whenever I hear that question asked – “If your house caught fire, what would you grab before you left?” – my true answer is, however deep I search within, apart from the family obviously, whom I would on no account leave, and after a short but thorough search for the cats (rattling the box of Dreamies should be sufficient to flush them out – they have been known to prise it open in the middle of the night having scaled the kitchen dresser to get it down), I would grab my bag as it contains my money, bank cards, keys and phone. If time allowed I’d also grab my spectacles (both pairs), laptop, best boots, hat, gloves and coat. As I fled down the stairs I’d cast a longing glance at the large household file where the details of the house insurance are kept, as clearly I’d be needing to contact the company. Then, closing the doors and phoning the emergency services as I went, I’d leave. Everything I treasure is in my heart. Externals are governed by the practical, for me.
BUT – assuming the house not to be burning down but still here for few years, I do have some treasures that will always travel with me while I have space to tuck them away.
Here are two of them.
Hebe made me this little book – full of magic and mystery, delightful, just lovely. The best gifts in our family are the home-made ones, and my special treasures are nearly all the work of my children’s hands. If these things were reduced to ashes in a burning house, I still would not lose them, because I have loved them so much and looked at them so carefully, often and long, that they could never really be lost to me. I have stowed them in the locker of my heart. This little book by Hebe is just one of them; and they are treasure indeed. The only objects I have ever regretted parting from are some bowls Hebe and Alice made. I used to display them in the course of retreats on my focus tables, but once I stopped leading retreats they were stored in my cupboard wrapped in soft cloths. Thinking that the work of an artist should be seen and shared and go out into the world, in a stupid moment I gave some of them to people who loved them – really loved them. I remember them, they are vivid in my mind. It was hard to let them go and I am still sad they are gone. There were three of them. Here’s one that Hebe made.
This is one that Alice made.
I wish I’d kept them.
But another thing I shall always treasure is this bracelet, though actually it’s not so much the bracelet you can see and touch that is the treasure, as the generosity and the love.
One year when my youngest daughter Fiona was maybe about eleven years old, our family went for the first time to the Big Green Gathering, a permaculture festival in England’s West Country. It was like a fair in a dream. Amazing. Just amazing. The music, the people, the artefacts – oh, it was like fairly-land – people in tipis, in painted wagons and converted vans, fire-dancers and people painted all over; people in yurts and gipsy vardos. Wonderful music and organic vegetarian food. Huge willow sculptures. Potters and woodcarvers and people selling woodstoves they’d made from old metal containers. I can’t begin to tell you!
Anyway, on one of the many stalls I saw this bracelet, made of three metals (silver, copper and brass). The words it shows are those of an Indian song, “Om namah shivaya”. It’s a holy song. The first word “Om,” is sometimes spelt “Aum,” which is important because when it is sung it should start with an “Ah” sound, gradually turning to “O”; the “m” just closes it down and allows it to linger. The “Ah – O” are the sounds of creation – like Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. All creation breathes in the rhythm of birth and death. The sign of Omega is a great doorway, an arch, the way through. O-mega – that means big zero; death, annihilation. In St John’s vision on Patmos, Jesus said to him “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” So creation is holy, indwelt by Jesus who came to be with us and reconcile the pattern we had broken, reconcile us to God.
As to the “Namah Shivaya” part of the word, that is India’s most holy name for God. The “Na” is God’s grace hidden in “Ma” (the world), “Shi” is for God dancing in creation and also calling our souls through death, and “Va” for grace revealed. But further – Na is earth, Ma is water, Si is fire, Va is air and Ya is ether. The meanings of Om Namah Shivaya are myriad, but it is essentially an expression of awe, wonder and reverence at the intrinsic holiness of creation.
So I thought the bracelet a most beautiful thing. But that’s not why I treasure it.
So intricately made, though nothing at the Big Green Gathering was on sale for high prices because no-one there had much money, at £5 this was one of the more expensive items. I saw it, looked at it, turned it over in my hands, admired it, considered it.
My children each had with them a small amount of pocket money to spend. We were not a rich family and they didn’t have much. £7 was Fiona’s entire spending money for the whole trip, and that place was so full of amazing and marvellous things to catch the eye. Instantly, eagerly, lovingly, without hesitation, she knew what she wanted to buy with her money. She spent £5 of the £7 she had buying that bracelet for her mother. Just a little girl. It remains one of my dearest treasures, because it is the gift of an unselfish and loving heart overflowing with extravagant generosity; the kind of heart made in the image of God.
Something larger. A bookcase. Passed out of my life and into life of Daughter 5. She does actually live in this house, so the bookcase has not left the building: but our home is divided into Common Space and Personal Worlds. What I am clearing and freeing up is Common Space, and my own Personal World. So some of the things leaving my ownership are passing into adjacent Personal Worlds where the Planet Inhabitant has put her/his hand up. Not that the Badger ever claims my chuck-outs (though he does stifle the occasional cry of pain as they leave). He’s been chucking out right up there with the best of them. Only this last week much of his treasured and beautiful inherited collection of Eastern artefacts from India and China has moved on to the next generation. And the shed! His shed is transformed! Incidentally, our grandson the Wretched Wretch is under the impression the Badger actually lives in the shed; occasionally when coming round to play midweek, when the Badger is away in Oxford, the Wretched Wretch will express the wish to go and visit Badger’s house, and I have to tell him regretfully that the Badger has gone down the treacle mine and won’t be back for some time. So he gazes wistfully at The Shed, thinking about the Badger and the happy times they spend there. He found a child’s toy screwdriver at playgroup recently, and enjoyed strutting competently around with it shoved into the pocket of his cargo trousers, occasionally stopping to fix a problem with it.
Just for the record: the Wretched Wretch has not only broken his arm and is in need of diversion, but is advancing in leaps and bounds and will no doubt only accelerate this process once recovered from the setback of his injury. This is the Lord’s way of telling Mumble (as the Wretched Wretch calls me) “Buy new toys”. Faithful to the one-in-two-out, I have radically pruned his toy cupboard – first securing his mother’s agreement that these things could go – and am looking forward to the postie (or, in this case, parsley) bringing new glories over the next few days. We will settle in by the fire armed with chocolate buttons and juice, and enjoy! I was able to contact a lady who had some stuff from me before on Freecycle, for handing on the Wretched Wretch’s cast-offs. She is setting up as a child-minder.