Thankful for What We Have . . . and Have Not

I’ve been homeless.

Not technically. I always had the ability to recreate a home over time and never knew the hopelessness of true homelessness. But back in the 1980s, our house burned down and, for three months, we had few possessions and no place to call our own.

Yesterday, as I shopped for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I had a flashback to the day after the fire. By then I had borrowed a friend’s track suit, and was standing, clad in strange clothing, in the middle of a vast store. The realization that I no longer owned one single item in that store — actually, with the exception of the flannel shirt and sneakers I’d worn out of the house that night, not one single item, period — settled deep in my bones.

In the hours, and weeks, and years that followed, I’ve often thought back to those possession-less months.

I learned many lessons through that experience. Some you might imagine: the immeasurable importance of friends who rallied around us, from those who took us into their homes to childhood friends who scoured their own photo albums to send replacements of lost memories. The strength that comes from working closely together with a spouse. The gift of humor. For all of which, on this Thanksgiving many years later, I remain deeply grateful.

But my flashbacks bring another set of memories: the strange lightness of being without.

I savor that sensation of being figuratively (and almost literally) naked in the world. It was exhilarating and terrifying. I had a glimpse of the extent to which we define ourselves in the context of physical accoutrements.

And I haven’t ever been quite the same. I find it easier to see trappings as temporal, just here just for this moment in time. Not really “mine” and certainly not “me.”

I think it is a little easier to stand up. To gamble and take risks. To give things away. To lose. And, I hope, as a result, to move forward.

My favorite Harvard Business School professor gave our class this parting advice: always keep enough money in the bank to free you from having your actions shaped by financial need. Be able to walk away.

I’d add: Enjoy, but never take life’s trappings too seriously.

In this special week, I’m very thankful for all I have… and for the knowledge of what it’s like to have not.

Original post here, by Tammy Erickson @ Harvard Business Publishing