This is a photo of my backyard, post-hurricane. What you see is a big tree—who knows how many years old; 50 maybe?—that cracked and fell toward our back door as the storm picked up in intensity on Monday night. My eldest son, our resident tree aficionado, could tell you that this is a Norway maple, more or less the weed of trees. This weed of trees fell toward—but not on—our house, and for that we are lucky. We all remained safe and sound during the storm and afterward, even if we were cold and cranky by the fifth day without heat or hot water. (Said son even hit “send” on his college applications in our pitch-black dining room. His nervous mom is hoping he actually pressed the right button.) But we fared much, much better than many of our fellow New Yorkers.
A few days after Sandy, I was talking to my colleague Ann, who lives in New Jersey. Ann’s house is near the water and her entire first floor was washed away in the storm. She was shockingly calm about the whole thing—amazing how a wallop from Mother Nature can reset your priorities—and said to me, “The things we lost had monetary value, but no real value.” She went on to compare two items: the crib her sons slept in, which she spent more than $1,000 on, and a tablecloth her mother had made for her. Guess which of those things had real value?
Isn’t that a wonderful way to categorize things? So many of us (and I put myself at the top of the list here) are surrounded by things, things, things, and spend a lot of time thinking about how we can get more things. Things make us happy, they make life beautiful, they make life easier, they make us smile. But look at the things around you and ask yourself: do these items have monetary value, or do they have real value? Maybe that will be Sandy’s lasting gift to me: I lost a Norway maple (three, actually), but found a smarter way to look at my things.