I have mixed feelings about this time of year. Though Christmas is about joy and family and warmth and togetherness, it has also, sadly, become about Stuff. It is impossible to walk through town or turn on the radio or read a newspaper without being bombarded with messages about stuff you and your loved ones need to buy, and at a discount not to be missed. Don’t get me wrong, I love a new purse or book or dress right along with the best of them but something about the over-the-top consumerism of December makes me question what our attachment to things is really all about.
There are of course the things we need, but those are very few: food, water, shelter, minimal clothing. The rest of it seems purely emotional: possessions that make us feel a little happier or prettier or smarter or more connected, gifts that bring joy to give, or objects that remind us of someone or someplace we know and love. Some of us become so attached to our things, we come to feel that we need them and cannot imagine our identity in the world stripped of our possessions. I, myself, have been known to have trouble giving things away—holding on to old t-shirts or letters or records just because they connect me to something that meant a lot to me once. But, Baba has given me several pointed opportunities to reflect on possessions and what they really mean.
It was the eve of my eighteenth birthday, January 30, and I was sitting beside Eruch on the side of Baba’s cabin facing the Samadhi. The Amartithi crowds surrounded us in a torrent of color and song. I’d been living in India for months at the time and I was curled on the stone in the moonlight feeling very lucky to be in such a vibrant circle of His lovers. Then, I turned and realized in a flash that my wallet was gone. Someone had stolen it. And it had everything of value to me in it. I was distraught. But then Eruch spoke. “This is a blessing,” he said, “now you will never forget where you were on your eighteenth birthday.” The funny thing is, I did forget. It wasn’t until my dear friend Steve Edelman, who was also there at the time, reminded me of this story, that it started to come back to me. And, as embarrassing as it is that I forgot Eruch addressing me on the Hill during Amartithi, it does go to show that “everything of value to me” was completely gone from memory just a handful of years later.
Then, in my mid-twenties, I was moving from California to New York to attend law school and decided to drive because there were certain possessions that seemed too bulky to ship—my bicycle, my stereo. After an extended drive across the country with my loyal mom as my companion, we arrived in Brooklyn a few hours before my new apartment was ready. As we went to get lunch, strangers broke into the moving van and took virtually everything I owned: that prized bicycle, the box conveniently labeled Stereo and almost all my clothes. Personal photographs and letters were strewn down the block. But the funny thing is, in the weeks that followed, once I got over the initial shock of having to buy new sheets and socks and chairs, I felt a lightness. Like I had been swept clean. Like the memories and attachments wrapped up in those boxes and clothes and histories were an anchor and I had suddenly set sail.
Just recently, we took our infant son Isaiah on a plane for the first time. After weeks of list-making and packing, we boarded the plane with suitcases packed with all of the essentials for a week away from home with a baby. And then we got stuck in a snowstorm in Salt Lake City and were told we had to stay the night. Without any of our stuff. And how did that turn out? Absolutely fine. We were happy to find a hotel room to shelter us from the snow, we had the sandwiches I’d packed from home and enough clothing to keep the three of us warm. We realized that of all the things we thought we needed to keep Isaiah happy, the only thing he really needed was us.
Which gets me back to my original thought about Christmas. As I prepare to share in my son’s first Christmas, I think about the traditions we will create for him and it seems very clear that what he will remember is curling up in his father’s lap to read about the Grinch, not which toys are under the tree; or singing songs through the neighborhood, not what he wore to the party. And I think that is true for all of us: the true stuff that matters is moments that touch our hearts, experiences that connect us to each other, and anything that helps us feel closer to Him. The rest is just part of the passing show and it all gets lost or stolen or forgotten with time.