Last week, we all received what I thought would be an unnerving alert on our cell phones from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As much as possible, the agency forewarned that the alert was a test only. It seems they did a good job. There were no widespread reports of alarmed callers checking with local police and fire and plenty of funny notes about being in a conference room when hundreds of phones went off at once. The alert still jolted me but, then again, I don’t think I’ve once been near a cannon going off at sunset that I didn’t jump a million miles in the air right after I told myself — don’t jump, the cannon is about to go off.
The alert and the very real natural disasters people have had to contend with around the country got me thinking — if there were a real emergency, and we were urged to leave our homes, what would we take with us?
For purposes of this exercise, let’s assume loved ones and pets are safely leaving with us, and focus on material goods only, basically the opposite of what we are taught is the meaning and purpose of life (relationships versus things.) Oh, and why not pretend all our medicines and valuable documents, marriage certificates, passports and the like are safely secured somewhere in a bank vault. So, no need to grab documents or meds, either. Finally, let’s say the authorities are limiting us to one farmers’ market size canvas bag, we’ll call it our “go-bag,” a term of art for things you need when evacuating. The bag limitation will have the added advantage of focusing us on portable items as opposed to Aunt Louise’s china cabinet.
I don’t consider myself materialistic but there are things I consider valuable even if, outside their value to me, they are worthless.
Let’s start with what’s on my desk. I have a handful of symbolic items I cherish. There’s a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh gifted to me by a member of a 9/11 family. One of those keys to push buttons that came into fashion during COVID that was sent to me anonymously — I like to think by someone who was thinking about keeping me and my family safe. A heart rock found on one of our beach excursions, one of a handful I’ve collected, but one that stands out because of its color. A glass hummingbird purchased on a trip to Mexico.
Of these things, only Ganesh is truly irreplaceable, so I’ll place him in my bag.
Jewelry? I’d remind David to grab his father’s wedding ring we have stored. I have a few small pieces including my original engagement stone. Into the bag they go.
Favorite books. A friend on Facebook posted recently about some he had that were first editions, or signed. I don’t have any like that. I’ve written before about my TBR pile and favorite books I keep nearby. But all could be replaced. So, no books are going into my bag.
Pictures? For the most part family pictures are on my phone so I can reprint them if needed. The phone, of course, is definitely coming with me. But my mother-in-law did put together two books with pictures of my children as babies and toddlers along with quotes of theirs from that time she faithfully took notes on over the years. (Lucky me, who does that?!!) They’re not replaceable, and going into the bag.
Here’s a weird one. My landline phone. I don’t ever use it. Only CVS calls it these days. But on the answering machine are a few messages from my mom, the only recordings I have of her voice, so it goes into the bag.
Laptop? Yup. Can’t function without it. Though I know everything is stored in a Cloud somewhere, I don’t know where the Cloud itself is stored so into the bag with you, Mac Pro 15. Oh, and all the requisite plugs and chargers.
While I can’t take the china closet, there are a few pieces in there I’d grab — the crystal bowls for cranberry sauce, olives and cream cheese-filled celery sticks, childhood Thanksgiving traditions all. The seder plate we use on Passover, and the shabbat candlesticks and challah plate along with the kiddush cup David used at his bar mitzvah. The glasses we toasted with on our wedding day, along with the cake cutter, too.
Anything in the basement? The glittery snowflake we use as a Christmas tree topper. It’s coming. What about the Thomas the Tank Engine set, box full of Barbies and American Girl dolls I set aside for future grandchildren? Sigh, they don’t fit in the bag.
In fact, for having chosen so few items, my bag is full.
Is there a theme to what I’ve chosen? There’s not a lot that’s truly valuable, beyond the sentiment. And maybe that’s the point. If your loved ones are already safe and secure, what else matters but bringing along items evoking the memories you’ve made together or want to pass on?
What’s in your go-bag? Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A member of the Marblehead Current’s Board of Directors, Virginia Buckingham is the former chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, chief of staff to two Massachusetts governors, deputy editorial page editor for the Boston Herald and author of “On My Watch: A Memoir.”