Three things (or less)

The Question: You are banished from the world you know for a year on a desert island, with your food and water, clothing, shelter, toiletries, all taken care of. You are allowed three items. What do you bring along?


Three things that are already taken care of.
Tomatoes, what would my life be without them? In any shape or form I consume them every day.
My bed, large and comfortable.
Block out (sunscreen) for without it I would fry in 15 minutes.
So my three things to take would be.
Cats, for entertainment, companionship, the purr and the feeling of fur.
Paper, for recording thoughts, drawing and doodling.
A large book, perhaps the Complete Works of William Blake, so I when I tired of reading it, I could start to read it backwards.


Scribbles on a calendar and the clock on my cell phone rule my world. The rubber covering for the on/off button is gone, a casualty of my obsessive clicking. Pay college tuition. Put the socks and towels in the dryer before they mildew. Find the recipe for stir fry shrimp and add ginger to the store list. Grocery shop. Search the internet for small sweatpants with a 32 inch inseam, a gift for my son that takes hours. Vacuum dog hair. Arrive late for school pickup on a frigid day in December. Apologize as my son rolls his eyes and shakes his head, frozen on the curb. This is not the first time. At home, the dog paces by the door, an hour past his normal walk. 

And now… solitude. An equator sun heats my scalp and turns my fair skin olive. The breeze off the ocean is briny and sometimes fishy, but full of life. It sustains. Alone on the island, I revel more in what I discarded than the Rumi poems and art supplies I brought along. No calendar to fill, no tasks to do…no worry over what remains undone. No needs to fill except my own.

I am not banished.

I am free.


It’s hard to imagine myself banished from the world and people that make up my daily life to a deserted island of all places. What could occasion this circumstance? A bet I lost or punishment for a crime? That’s so unfair. I’m sure I am innocent and I never bet.

I’m not a misanthrope. I like people, well, to qualify that–not all over me and in restrained doses.

Still, I suppose I could hack solitary for a year.  Count my blessings, not my wants and if I could take three items with me, say a ream of paper, a gross of pens and a brace of cats, well, that might be pretty close to paradise, if the weather was good.

Nah, who am I kidding? I need people. I love talking with the people I love and like, moving through the world with some purpose and kindness.

The older I get and the more loved ones I lose to illness and death, however, the more I feel an impulse to make new connections.

My childish innate shyness and the quiet voice of wisdom within me have made peace.

I’m not an island, and I hope I never get stranded on one, but if I did I would send out smoke signals, messages in bottles and prayers in the hope of being reconnected again.


I have often travelled alone, in a car, slept in the back seat, or sometimes a tent with spare few things. There is something rare, curled up in the car, the stars above you outside the rear window, or rain pelting roof, and nobody in the world knows where you are. You are like a sunbeam, or the wind. You are reduced to an idea in the minds of people you know, and in yourself, you are a rabbit in tall grass, listening, heart beating. Feeling alive. But three things can bind you to earth: comfort, stimulation and companionship. 

Even with a bounty in most places I travel, a good pillow is difficult, if not impossible to replicate.
It is an item with which to bond, and an old friend: The Collected Stories of John Cheever.
I am maddening, and unwilling to draw a year of ire, so my little dog would be the perfect, appreciative ear as I talked to myself.


My immediate thought went to what book or music or dvd I would take with me. But it then occurred to me that if I was only allowed three of my favourite items, those items might soon become my least favourite. I would read my book or listen to my song over and over until I learned to hate them. I wouldn’t want to ever hate the things I love. I would rather not have them and miss their absence than have them and become sick and tired of them.

In the absence of items to amuse and entertain me or to make my life more comfortable I would hope I would become more inventive or resourceful and discover new ways to occupy my time and make life easy. I would let necessity be the mother of invention. There would be reward in that.

So what item would I never be tired of no matter how much I used it? A good bed. I would take a really comfortable bed. I think that’s all I would take with me.


The day my mother went into labor with my brother, walking slowly with her under the bank clock which read 99 degrees; the time I firsr flew into an all-out gallop on a horse and turned into animal/horizon/tumbleweed; Willie Nelson singing “Help Me Make It Through the Night”; the day my dog got off the dog-truck from Louisiana and, in a Connecticut parking lot, lay at my feet for her first scratch from me; the beautiful sound of melting snow dripping all around the building on my wedding day, calm after a blizzard; the day I met each of my daughters for the first time and my heart cracked open and put them inside; my five-year-old doing show-and-tell with our guinea pig; singing “Orphan Girl” while my friend P carried the band behind me; the weight of my first book, a book my me, in my hands; sunrise in northern California over a russet field; lunching along the canal in rural Thailand when an elephant walked by; the love of my friends and family and their cookies and casseroles pulling me through a grave and lengthy illness; my grandmother playing piano, warbling “We’ll Understand It Better By and By”; giving my daughters ‘underdogs’ while pushing them on playground swings; wind in my hair while ice skating on winter ponds; being called out of grade six and summoned to the office to be told I had a brand new baby sister; my students pranking me brilliantly—and out of love—each April Fool’s Day; breaching orcas next to my boat in Alaska; the high lonesome sound of “O Susanna” on the banjo, slow; evening market in my Thai city, friendly haggling for the best price on sticky rice and mango; riding my bike over a swaying suspension bridge, high above the river, as dusk falls on the bathing water buffalo below; my children, every day; Christmas cookies, songs, stockings, gifts, meals; spirituals and hymns on the guitar; tea with a friend, the sun finding us laughing on her deck; everything perfectly imperfect; everything perfectly impermanent; people I have loved and lost; places I have loved and lost; Emily Dickinson; a furrowed brow, a smile, a handhold—my daughters; tennis on the municipal courts; beachcombing; a five-day hike into Big Sur; love I’ve given; love I’ve received; every memory, all of these and more, I would take with me.


The Levitator  Three things for taking turned out to be more difficult than deciding on one, so I quizzed the peanut gallery around here. 

Harper was all about “food” so that she could live and watch “all the TV” she’d also bring while a “that’s two” follow-up quickened a response of “of course, I’d bring all my birds!” 

Theo named off about 27 things and when I said, “just 3,” there was a bit of a flummoxed look and then a struggle and then a laugh and that laugh was the best laugh cause it was a laugh that said so many things about how decisions and discomfort combine to either lead to tears or lead to joy. 

While Theo tried to turn his 27 to many fewer, Harper decided that a house, “OUR HOUSE” would be the thing to bring… and then Theo chimed in in his often too loud voice… “OUR HOUSE WITH EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD ALREADY IN OUR HOUSE WITH TWO MORE THINGS THAT WE CAN GOOGLE WHEN WE GET THERE!!!!!” And I thought that was it, but Harper with the last word said, “Ok OK ok okok OK, how about (while counting each with a succession of raised fingers): 1. scuba gear, 2. a map, and 3. chocolate. We’ll watch a TV in Theo’s house until we get bored and then we can swim home.” 

I asked, “what’s the chocolate for?” Harper looked at me with the ‘stupid dad’ look, and replied, “sharks, sharks LOVE chocolate!”

Yet, this is about my three things… of course, one way to go would be to say I’d bring the family so we could all escape the troubled times around here. There’s the four of us, so it’d be me plus these three: 1. Tanya, 2. Harper and 3. Theo. With basic comforts taken care of it’d be the honeymoon (and vacation) we never had (and have) the time or resources for. But Tanya probably couldn’t get away for 365 days because of ‘responsibilities’ and getting these two kids to do anything is always a struggle unless it involves a trip to Walgreens and some Pokémon cards which are neither basics nor comforts, so I’d bring these three things:

  1. PENCILS to write and record
  2. the words and sketches I never have time to put to PAPER in this life I live around here
  3. and I’d bring this PHOTO where the levitator works her spell to create a moment of joy in-between moments of tears for a boy who couldn’t learn his wings. 
I imagine that for all the times I’ve wished for an escape, that when granted the stay… it’d be this moment of in-between-ing that drives the desire to return to the difficult, to the agonizing, and to the beauty of not missing these two explore the discomfort and joys of each decision they decide.
Or, if you’re still reading, I’d bring two of these donuts. They wouldn’t last long but they’d help the transition from being of here to being of there.
And I’d bring my bike, so I could keep riding and exploring without the commuting and the working (and the snow-ing) for 365 days.

NEXT WEEK’S QUESTION: Whether you are observing the coming holidays, or you are not, is there a difficult memory you associate with this time of year? 

Posted by MMJ

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