Our homes are cluttered with “stuff.” We pride ourselves on many possessions. For some we paid very hefty prices. We tend to think of these as extremely valuable. The more they cost, the more we are inclined to treasure them.

In a world that all too often confuses price with true worth, we can easily lose our proper perspective.

Hurricane Sandy gave too many of us the sudden wisdom and stark certainty which of our belongings is actually the most invaluable.

Imagine the terror that took hold of those in her path. Picture what it must be like to see the torrential waters about to wash away your home. The first thought, without a doubt, is to save your life and the lives of your loved ones. Following that comes the desire to preserve those things you can’t possibly imagine being forever without.

And what were they? Most people tried to hold on to memories far more than to material possessions.

Fleeing residents quickly grabbed irreplaceable photo albums and scrapbooks. Souvenirs of memorable moments were seen as more intrinsically valuable than jewelry. And for those who were just barely able to get out with their lives, these were the things they kept searching for in the storm’s aftermath among the shattered remnants and debris of their now uninhabitable dwellings.

Memories take precious moments and grant them eternity.

People cried for their destroyed “stuff” but they were inconsolable for the loss of their heirlooms. Intuitively they understood a truth that our materialistic society so often chooses to forget. It isn’t things that really make us happy. J.M. Barrie put it beautifully when he wrote, “God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.” Memories take precious moments and grant them eternity. Memories are rooted in people we love and who loved us. Memories allow us to relive the most glorious times of our lives. Memories aren’t possessions but reminders of joyous occasions that continue to possess us.

Photos and scrapbooks and diaries and objects that were owned and handled by those we never want to forget hold the key to our happiness. We build our tomorrows with the bricks of our remembrance of the past.

Why do we spend so much time striving to accumulate more and more of the physical objects that in the grand scheme of things aren’t as important as the loving relationships that cost us nothing but time and effort?

I will never forget the beautiful insight of one of my teachers who defined our mission in life as “creating beautiful memories.” Whether it be for our families, our friends or the people with whom we interact in our lives, it is only through the memories of beautiful moments that we leave behind something of permanent value. “A happy memory,” he told us, “is a hiding place for unforgotten treasures.”

Today our task is to rebuild. And for all that we have lost, let us remember that while acquiring new possessions will be costly, creating new memories infused with love, caring and concern for others is thankfully free – and priceless.