Friday, May 22, 2015


And he looks like he's headed to shop for more!

The premise is this: You are going on a rocket ship to somewhere in another galaxy. You will be provided with whatever you need in the way of food and clothing. You may bring along only ten items and those must fit in the backpack provided.

I first thought about this trip in some random book of science fiction I read in my early twenties. This was way before the computer age. At that time I had relatively few possessions. I think I filled my backpack with some of my favorite books, a scarf I loved and still have today, what else? I don’t remember. What I do remember is the “only ten items”. I think the backpack bit has added itself to my memory: we weren‘t really using backpacks in the 60’s. Oh yes – I do remember that it was important to me to take my eyeglasses. It’s still important to me. I have to see!

Think about it: what material objects are important to you? What would you bring? Favorite books, family pictures, the first thing you bought with your own money, your wedding ring? Would you bring your laptop computer and all you’ve saved on it? Would the battery last? Maybe electronic things wouldn’t be suitable to bring along.

The characters in most historic fiction, which usually reflects historic fact, had few possessions unless they were royalty and had trunks full of stuff. If disaster struck and they lost everything, they lost little. Or it seems that way in the books. Many had just the clothes on their backs, with maybe an extra tunic or dress for festive days, and what could fit in a purse or scrip. Folks had little in the way of material things to pass on to their children.

Though there are societies in this modern world that still live so simply, it is simple to say that our own times and needs have changed. Indeed they have, and for the better, but today we seem to have too much. That backpack has to get bigger. Our parents passed on just a few precious things to us, and we have those things and even more to pass on in turn to our own children. Is it all stuff really that important? Our own stuff has accumulated over the years, and the kids are acquiring stuff every day.  Eventually, their stuff will have stuff. Perhaps we should pass on the problem by giving them some of our stuff now, before we are possessed by our possessions.

While all of us do have some very nice things, we know that we could very easily do without most of them. We can look around our homes and do some creative triage: what can go to make our lives simpler, and what is important enough to fit in that “backpack”. You might want to document those important items on a bequest list. Let the future recipients know who gets what, the history of the items, and why they are especially important to you.

In centuries gone by, what most people could hope to pass on was a set of traditions and moral codes and, for the lucky ones, a home place and the knowledge of family history. This is as important to families today as it was then. What’s in your backpack? Think about it.

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