Source of photograph from here. Photography credits to TJ Mullinax/Yakima Herald Republic
"Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure."
I'm not really sure where to begin. Do I start with giving some advice, sharing our hard lesson learned? Perhaps it begins with the official notice that we would be moving to Myanmar. No. That's going too far back. Maybe it's the point when we were making mental - then physical - lists of "what's to go" and "what's to stay" before packing up. Yes. I think it starts there.
How do you decide what to leave behind, to store in safety, when moving across continents? Do you take all your most prized possessions to the new country, to keep them near you, or do you pack them up into neat little boxes and open them at a later time.
We chose to take what we "must" to be comfortable in Myanmar. All our daughter's toys. Much of our furniture. Most of our belongings. Special books I've carried with me across four continents and five countries (they've traveled more than some people). They came along this time, too.
Yangon used to be a tropical rainforest. I mean, it still is a tropical rainforest, just with a city built on top of it. Nature takes over quickly, though, and is not tamed by cement and motors. It's a humid place. Mold rapidly grows and we worried about it destroying baby books, antique furniture, precious family heirlooms, our daughter's ultrasound pictures.
Those belongings with the greatest sentimental value - those that we would cry and mourn for if ruined - we left at home. The storage unit was a warehouse and the owner boasted of its safety and how the military housed items there, so security was tight. I felt secure and confident trusting my great-grandmother's dishes and jewelery to them.
We figured the greatest risk would be if the container blew up or sank for some reason. We insured our air and boat shipments to Myanmar. After all, they were the more necessary items. And, thankfully, they arrived unscathed.
We did not insure our storage belongings.
A few weeks ago, there was a fire. Nearly all of the warehouse burnt down, with the exception of a newer addition which had a firewall and sprinklers. It appears our things were not in that part of the building.
Lesson to share with others: insure your storage belongings. And make very, very detailed lists of your inventory (don't rely on what the packers document). Take photographs of things.
The owners of the storage facility still have not been able to identify our unit. It appears extremely likely our most valued, most sentimental possessions have burned.
I am angry. With myself, mostly. Why, for the first time ever, did I just not take everything? How could I have left behind my pregnancy journal which even included the positive pregnancy test (the actual test, not the results: the pee stick thingy!) in it. I meticulously wrote to my daughter, who was yet born, about everything.
How could I have left over 20 years' worth of: letters; cards from my beloved, deceased grandmother; notes passed in middle school; Valentine's Day cards given in primary school; printed out emails and love letters from my husband. What was I thinking?
My husband. His father died when he was young. Only recently, his mother gave him original photographs of his dad. Those were in the fire. My daughter hasn't even seen pictures of her paternal grandfather, and yes, she wanted to.
I am very sentimental. I do not care so much about the toaster, the washer and the dryer, or any of that. We can buy new ones. I cannot get back the beautiful pine, curved, antique bureau and dresser that belonged to my family for generations. I cannot get back the old, oak rocking chair that was passed on to me. There's no reclaiming our wedding album or my baby book with pieces of my baby hair. It had pictures of my great-grandmother holding me.
I am sad. I feel like I've destroyed, with a single decision, part of our family history that was entrusted to me. I feel like it was my responsibility and I let down future generations. Does that sound dramatic? It's not that they're material possessions. It's that they are the part of the story.
I keep stories close to me. I'm good at it. It was even my career for years: I was trusted to keep others' secrets, to honor them. I gathered them. Kept them safe.
My grandfather, who has died, would spend hours explaining who my ancestors were in the old, framed photographs. I listened with earnest. I wanted those photos. I wanted to keep their stories alive. I knew, even as a small child, that those stories were inside me. Helped make me who I was. Who I am.
Do I owe them an apology? Tell them, "Hey, look. I messed-up. I'm sorry. I should never have let anyone else take care of our history." Should I apologize for moving again? For taking the risk?
Maybe none of it would've happened had we just.stayed.home. (Of course, it certainly could've happened. It happens! It happens to so, so many people. This time, no one was hurt.) Still, call me crazy: I feel guilty, as though I have let my family down.
There's a possibility that tangible items will be recovered from the fire. If so, I hope to find them. Piece them back together. Perhaps some wood is left. We could make something with it.
The husband thinks this likelihood is very slim. He also thinks I would find it very distressing to fly home, sift through rubble, not find anything.
He doesn't want me to cry. It's too late for that.
I need to take something from this fire, something to hold on to. Something that tells me the stories are not lost.
I'm banking on Rumi being right: "where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure."