Monday, December 1, 2014

What I Learned When I Lost Everything

On October 13th, after the aforementioned lovely weekend of living in the 1860s, I arrived at Union Station with Civil War Bestie Ashley to catch a train that would take me home to St. Paul. I checked my bag in at the Amtrak counter - we both cheered when the scale read 49.6 pounds - .4 pounds under the baggage limit, which was a feat, considering it contained almost all of my reenacting gear from the past weekend's immersion reenactment. The woman checking me in smiled that benevolent, "Oh you silly kids" smile, and took my suitcase away.

That's the last I have seen of it. My worst nightmare came true - my reenacting clothes are gone.

The details of my dealings with Amtrak are long, and sordid, and are best told on another day. Suffice it to say that at this point, six weeks later, they cannot explain what happened to it or give me any idea of when they will find it. For the last six weeks, I have felt what it is like to lose the core of your reenacting clothing. Thankfully, I still have most of my dresses. The dresses that were in the suitcase were fairly unique (one of them was my mourning dress) and losing them is a big hit. The worst part is that I do not have a single undergarment to my name. No corset, no cage crinoline, no petticoats, not even a chemise.

A claim has been submitted for the (gut-wrenching) worth of everything in the suitcase. The story isn't done, and we will have to see where things go from here. But I'm not interested in talking about the details of what exactly went down - I want to tell you the life lessons that I have learned from this ordeal.

It's Just As Awful As It Sounds. I cannot put into words the awful feelings I have felt the last month. You know the eight stages of grief? I went through all of them. Disbelief, despair, anger, bargaining...I was down with all of them. I still am, to a certain extent. To put it into words for people, I told them to imagine an artist who watched all their paintings go up in flames. It's not so much the physical items themselves as what they represented - time, energy, the amount of research, all the love and attention to detail that I poured into each of those things.

There are a few things that are more gut-wrenching than others. Possibly one of the worst is my cloth doll, Dolly. I'm just a big little girl, and the idea of Dolly being lost forever still brings me to tears. Don't judge.

So I wallowed in my grief for a month. I wept copious tears on the shoulders of my friends, my family, and my Gentleman Friend. There was an incident at work where I got stuck in my office because I was too ashamed of my mascara streaks to get to the bathroom and wash my face. But...

You Can Rebuild. I didn't start feeling better until I started taking action. I created a spreadsheet that listed every last thing in the suitcase. I hunted down documentation for those prices. The price I came up with is vomit-inducting (let's just say it's four figures, and it's more than I make in a month at my decent corporate job). Once I made that list, though, I saw the length and breadth of what I lost. I realized just how replaceable everything was, and though it was scary to look at that spreadsheet with all its rows and prices and amounts, it made everything seem more realistic.

Advice Is Not Always Helpful. I have struggled with this point. People are genuinely nice and caring, and that caring sometimes comes out as helpful advice. The problem comes when that advice is offered over and over and over again. Ask me how many times I've been told how to file a claim with Amtrak. Ask me how many times I've been told to check eBay, Etsy, and the like. The answer is "A whole heck of a lot."

Of course I'm not angry with people. Those who offer advice generally (not always, but probably 99% of the time) offer it in a spirit of helpfulness, and often because they too have lost luggage and know what the process is like. What I have taken away from this, for myself, is that when I plan to offer another person advice or helpful hints, I should pause and ask myself if it's necessary. Much more helpful to offer a sympathetic ear and a pat on the back. This video touches on that:

People Are Wonderful. When something like this happens, it's quite easy to feel very much alone. I was absolutely that fox in that deep, dark hole. I felt like I was fighting this battle alone, and the burden of it was very heavy. Then my friend, Melissa of The Deviant Dressmaker, suggested I put out on Facebook what I was going through, and ask for some help to get some things sewn. I anticipated a few people offering to sew me some undergarments to at least get me to a few events in the coming months.

What I got was overwhelming. People crawled out of the woodwork to offer help. I posted a list of everything that had been in that suitcase that needed to be made (nothing store-bought, and nothing manufactured), to keep it straight. Less than 24 hours later, almost everything had been spoken for, from my chemises and drawers to my wrapper to my cage crinoline (yes, my cage crinoline is being replaced by the generous and amazing Carolann Schmitt). There are people who can't sew, but offered materials to those who could. There are people who can't sew, and asked me what they could buy. There are people who I have never met, and people who didn't even know me before this, but they heard about what happened and want to help. There are still people offering help, and I'm actually turning them away, because there's nothing left to be made. It's all being relaced.

After all that stress and anxiety, feeling hopeless and helpless and full of despair, I finally broke through. I honestly cannot believe how kind and generous people are. There aren't words to express the gratitude I feel, or the warm-fuzzies that are filling my heart to overflowing. I take it as a very large pat on the back, that there are people out there who appreciate me and who care about me and who want to see me smile, in spite of everything. A huge thank you goes out to all of them for their kindness and generosity. If there's anything I want to take away from this, it's that people are good, and that I have amazing and wonderful friends.