People love to be prepared, they love to talk about being prepared. People love to plan ahead, save stuff, make lists. The earthquake kit is evidence to this. Disaster is always eminent, there are people who spend their lives predicting largely unpredictable things (weather, the justice system, elections, earthquakes, marriages). You grew up in California, where disaster, prediction, and preparedness are the replacement for seasonal weather. Every year: Disaster, preparedness, prediction, prevention. Winter, spring, summer, fall.
This one time, in the summer before fifth grade, your entire family (mom’s side) took a trip to Ireland, the motherland. In preparation for the trip mom bought you all matching Land’s End windbreakers from the catalogue. Very expensive. Your new, clean, slick navy blue coat with white and blue stripes on the inside. It had a pull string at the waist and through the hood. It had that catalog smell. It had book-sized pockets.
“DO NOT LOOSE THESE,” she said “I got them for the trip,” Even Dad had a matching Dad-sized one. You brought it to school one day. You left it outside at recess, probably in a tree, or balled up behind the baseball fields (where you could hide out and read books, and watch other people play marbles). You cried, you didn’t want to tell her. This was bad. Now you would not be prepared for the trip. She would be “Livid,” the word that could make the Hulk feel like a mouse. What you ended up with was this replacement parachute of a slicker – a last-minute K-mart purchase – it was this strange multi-colored geometrical pattern. You were punished by having to wear MC Hammer pants as a jacket.
Months of preparation had gone into this adventure. 4 families, 2 uncles, 9 kids, 8 adults, 4 marriages, 4 car rentals, endless accommodations. Organization of the troops on the opposite side of the coast had to be arranged, parties, lunches, dinners, tea, tea and more tea. A pilgrimage never before attempted in the family’s history. And all those passports to keep track of.
Your unit was known for chronic over-packing, so it came as no surprise to anyone when the Barraza’s showed up at the wet little lump of cottages in County Kerry with no less than 9 bags of luggage for 4 people. Everyone else just shrugged.
You remember little about the trip. Some highlights: The pilot couldn’t land the plane in Shannon until they cleared the runway of sheep, which they happily announced over the intercom. There was a large family reunion at somebody’s gigantic old stone house. All the other kids playing soccer, they looked like baby birds; pale, thin. You shared a birthday party with Cormack and Dermick your second cousins, twin boys, one with black and the other with turnip colored hair. The world cup was going on at the time, so in each car there was a tape of Irish team chants. The train of four packed cars would be sailing along some twisting back country road for hours passing herds upon herds of sheep singing “Ole, Ole, Ole…. something in gallic…” You were often car-sick. At some point while the dad’s were in charge you were left in a pub with your cousin (the only two girls) and wandered around until you found the rest of the herd (dad’s included) eating soft-serve and chocolate bars at a gas station. You went “whale watching” with some random old salty guy in his converted tin row-boat.
The most legendary moment of that trip was about a week in. You were in the kitchen of the little thatched cottage, sitting on the counter, soaking your feet in the sink and reading some historical fiction about the potato famine, (an assignment from grandma) after a day of running around in the wet green grass with improper footwear. Mom and Dad clomped down the stairs arguing.
“Well I thought it was yours, your make-up bag or something.”
“You know what my make-up bag looks like! It’s not this one, I thought this one was yours!”
“It’s not mine! I just have that one little rolling thing.”
There is a black leathery duffel bag in dad’s arm. He drops it on the table in the center of the room with a clunk.
“This yours?” He asks. You shake your head. And he unzips it. He scoffs, looks a little confused, and pulls out a can of peas. He puts it down on the table and pulls out another can of beans, then a flashlight, batteries, a small radio, some juice boxes, band aids, etc. They look at each other and start laughing.
“It must be Ellen’s, ” Mom says between giggles, ” She brought us to the airport, It’s her earthquake kit from the back of her car!”
“You mean we have been carrying around a 30 pound earthquake kit for ten days?” Dad shakes his head, and puts his hands on his hips and leans back and gives the ceiling a long hard “HA!” His laugh of helpless frustration, of disbelief and annoyance. Mom is leaning against the counter.In a half-joke she says, “What if there is an earthquake while we are gone?” We all shrug.
The story quickly spreads around the O’Neill camp. Cottage walls are thin, (metaphorically speaking, cottage walls are actually about 3 feet deep), and boundaries are of no consequence. The Barraza’s brought an earthquake kit all the way to Ireland with them. Everyone knows there hasn’t been snakes or earthquakes since God pumped out Ireland during his morning cigarette break on the 3rd day of creation. So imagine the rounds of jokes fired off during all the ensuing pub-hours. It’s the first story ever told when that trip is brought up. It’s probably the funniest thing to happen besides “The freak with the camera” thing. Which is a whole separate legend for a whole separate post.
The earthquake kit was something of a hot-topic at the time, it was trending. Everyone had one, what was in it was a mark of who you were, its your family nutshell. Ours had blankets, beans, capri-sun, canned peaches, and a “first aid kit,” Basically tiny finger band-aids, bactine, and an old tube of neosporin.
This is a good excercise to do when you are unsure of the direction of your life. What’s in your earthquake kit? What are the basics?
Yours is filled with books, paper, pencils, music. How you are living right now is totally in your nutshell: books, typewriter, assorted dresses, boots, 4 pieces of jewelry, pencils, pens, wine. You had to get your life down to your earthquake kit, to really see clearly what you value, material wise and other wise. Food wise, that’s easy. You would bring sweet potatoes, black beans, hot sauce, tortillas, avocados, apples, and a chocolate bar. You wonder why more people don’t have whiskey in their kits?
At your core, you must always know the contents of your kit, the contents can change but you must always take inventory, because this is your compass. This is what is inside your black box. Sometimes, when you feel stagnant or lost, you have to peel away everything else and just get down to your kit, to really see ahead. When the world starts to suddenly shake and crumble, which it will, you have to know you can survive. You have to keep your kit safe and clean, and fresh, well stocked. Else you be left without any survival materials, or a plan. Thats when the bottom drops out from under you. Don’t get this confused with pessimism. This isn’t the “Always keep your own bank account,” conversation. It’s a simple excercise in preparedness. It’s knowing that no matter what happens, you will survive, because you know you have these things to float on. You gotta be confident in your kit. Trusting your own foresight to get you through the rubble.
That’s what New York was about. Testing out your kit. Seeing what was missing, adding, subtracting, updating; general earthquake kit maintenance. What can you survive on? What do you want to survive on? Who is an essential element? What is the most important thing?
For some, like yourself, an actual physical shedding and essentializing of your possessions and a cross-country move is how you get down to the basics of yourself. Others may just have to take a 3 week yoga retreat to Bali, or a summer feeding children in Africa. Nothing is ever easy for you. And this is your own fault, and there is nothing wrong with that.
It is only when you can get down to the very center of your Tootsie pop that you can look around and see exactly what it is that makes you tick. It’s the most important map you could ever look at. And you love maps. Generally, this generation doesn’t have a map. We sort of flail around from one idealism to another then it’s “HELP! HELP! Somehow I ended up in a healthy relationship and I don’t have a map!” But the good news is, you have your compass all fresh and polished in working order. You may not have a map, but you know you need to go west, and you have a very reliable compass, and a well stocked kit.