During the last four weeks, my students and I have been thinking a lot about identity and how to define ourselves as people and individuals. Last summer I visited the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, and there my family and I saw a small exhibit on objects found in the southwest desert of the United States. These objects were left (or lost) by immigrants who were crossing the border between Mexico and the United States. This exhibition made me think about others who had had to flee from their homes either because they chose to do so (to look for other opportunities) or because they were fleeing war or violence or natural disasters. So, I asked my students to consider what they would carry, if they had to leave their homes quickly and on foot. I also considered the same situation.
What would I carry? I told my students that they could imagine being able to “escape” with their other loved ones (relatives and pets) and to think only about objects they could easily carry in a backpack or small suitcase. I explained to them that, years ago, thieves entered my house and took with them all of the letters my husband had written to me before we were married. They stole old photos of my mother, father, and grandparents when they were young. The robbers took jewelry that my mother’s family had brought with them from Germany in the mid-1800’s (including the rose gold ring that we had used as an engagement ring). They also robbed me of all of my earrings, rings, and necklaces (most of little monetary value, but all had sentimental value). They emptied my dresser drawers and stole from me things that were precious and that I can’t replace. This was in 2011.
It still makes me sad to think about it. So, I pondered, “What would I carry with me?” I would bring the new necklaces (including one that is inscribed “sii forte” or “be strong” a gift from my Italian language students that year), my new rings (and the “old” turquoise ring from my godmother aunt who died of cancer when I was six…I had been wearing that ring on the day of the robbery), and the new earrings gifted to me by loving friends and family. I would bring some photo albums (I would prefer to bring thumb-drives of all of my photos, but I am not that organized, nor do I have the time to download my thousands of photos onto a bunch of small drives). I would bring my two passports and my children’s and husband’s passports. I would bring my childhood Steiff teddy bear (a connection to my German heritage and most beloved childhood toy which is why he is nearly bald). I would bring the two quilts made of my children’s baby clothes and the two diaries I have that once belonged to my father. My siblings and I have been watching our father’s decline from Alzheimer’s and he has reached the point where he is now in hospice care and is remembering very little of anything. His journals are precious to all of us in that they are full of memories, and we are all very grateful to have these little books.
These are the things that I would bring with me. These are the things that I identify with in this moment because of their important associations with family, friendship and love.