We just had the one year anniversary of the devastating Tubbs fire here in Sonoma county. Of course, that wasn't the only fire happening at that time; it was just one of many. You can read my perspective of what happened here. Anyway...
One of the things that gets said a lot about the physical losses people suffered is that it was "just stuff." Stuff can be replaced. And, to some extent, all of that is true. I said something similar about my own stuff back around the time of the fire when I decided that all I needed was my writing paraphernalia (laptop, flash drive, notebooks) and my people (which includes animals). The rest was just stuff. And I still agree with that on the whole as evidenced by my efforts during the past year to get rid of a lot of my collectibles. [If you're interested in buying comic books and gaming stuff, let me know!]
The Museums of Sonoma County is doing an exhibit, right now, of art "from the fire" in honor of the anniversary. One of the things said in one of the pieces was, essentially, "Yes, but it was our stuff." It included a list of the things lost in the fire that were actually irreplaceable. And I could go a lot of different directions with that including doubling down on the original "it's all just stuff" proclamation, but, instead, I'm going to go in just one direction:
It's not just "stuff;" it's memories.
As I mentioned, I'm working on selling off my old collectibles and some of that is just stuff. It's like a byproduct of earlier days when I worked in comic/gaming retail and stuff that accumulated because I was collecting something or... whatever. Just stuff. But some of that stuff that I'm going through is more than that. Some of the things have memories attached to them and, when I find something like that, it brings those memories bubbling back to the surface of my brain (which, now that I think of it, is a gross image; I may have to use it in a story some day). Some of those memories are things that in all probability I would never have thought of again if I hadn't come across the item associated with the memory.
There was this game called Mage Knight that came out about 15 years ago. It's a miniature battle game I used to play... which was really all I remembered about it as I started pulling out boxes of surplus figures to sell off. But, then, I found one little box of figures that were set aside from all of the rest, particular figures: They were my army from a campaign I ran with a group of friends back when the game was new. I would never have remembered about that if I hadn't found that particular box, because the memory of it was tied to the army.
Going through a box of comics recently (and I have a LOT of comics), I came across some old X-Factor comics which included issues from "The Fall of the Mutants" story line and the issue with the death of Angel and the introduction of Apocalypse, and I was immediately taken back to when I first got those issues and read them and what it felt like when Angel died and the anticipation involved in waiting for each new issue. Things I haven't thought about in at least two decades, maybe longer, and only remembered because I had a piece of stuff in my hands.
And then there's the fact that one of the places I grew up (my grandparent's farm in East Texas (and my great-grandparent's, too, for that matter)) burned down in some wild fires in Texas several years ago. Those places are gone, and I can never take my kids there, now, to see them, and I don't have any clue as to the memories in my head that may have drifted away in a smokey haze because I know longer have a thing in existence to call it forth.
So, you know, sure, it's all just things. And some things are replaceable, but the cross-stitch owls I made for my grandmother when I was a teenager (which is actually in my garage because my mom sent it to me after my grandmother died) is not. And the rope art piece I made for my grandfather is also not replaceable, and that was still at the farm in East Texas when it burned.
And none of what I'm saying is in defense of having stuff, because I do believe that, as Americans in the US, we tend to have way too much stuff. I certainly have way too much stuff, which is why I've endeavored to lighten my stuff load, but, also, it's not my place to devalue someone else's stuff with the declaration to them that, "Well, it's just stuff." How am I to know what memories are tied up in that stuff? How am I to know what they permanently lost? What memories are gone forever and what things can't be passed down? What things are significant and what things are not?
I can't; that's how. So, if someone is devastated by the loss of their things, well, that's okay. They get to be devastated. And if someone else shrugs it off with "it was just stuff," that's okay, too. It's not for me to know or judge. But you know what I think you can do? You can listen to someone tell you about the things that were important to them that they will never see or have again. You can let them experience that memory by telling you about it. Maybe, that way, they can hold onto it just a bit longer. And, really, what are we without our memories?