About five years ago, two of my best friends lived on Quisenberry Lane, mere yards from my mail­box. One night at din­ner, we start­ed talk­ing about the impend­ing zom­bie apoc­a­lypse. It was the year every­one was watch­ing The Walking Dead, and it seemed inevitable that the end of our world as we knew it was nigh. In response, we opened anoth­er bot­tle of wine and made a plan. 

As soon as it all went to hell, every­one was to get back to the Lane as quick­ly as pos­si­ble and by any means nec­es­sary. We would camp out in the stu­dio, which has plen­ty of win­dows for light (since the grid would go down quick­ly) and a wood stove for heat and cook­ing. None of us could shoot or use a bow and arrow, but between us, we had some expe­ri­ence in med­ical emer­gen­cies and gar­den­ing. Later on, we mused, we could bar­ri­cade the gate, maybe spread some chick­en wire around the util­i­ty poles to grow a gar­den. We talked about going in on a solar-pow­ered generator.

Next, we got togeth­er “go box­es,” small­er ver­sions of Y2K pre­pared­ness kits. Ours was a large Tupperware con­tain­er that used to house Christmas dec­o­ra­tions. In it, we put some sup­plies, extra med­ica­tions, alco­hol wipes, and an old pair of glass­es for me. We bought water­proof match­es, a cou­ple of solar flash­lights, some MREs, and cans of beans. Added a pock­et knife, a Leatherman all-in-one tool, bat­ter­ies, toi­let paper, and duct tape. And bour­bon, fig­ur­ing we could use it to either dress wounds or self-med­icate. And because we’re die-hard Kentuckians, even in End Times. 

My go box is most­ly emp­ty now, raid­ed dur­ing the 2019 ice storm and the 2020 pan­dem­ic. The only things left are some MREs (do they ever expire?), a book about edi­ble plants, and a deck of cards we threw in as a way to enter­tain our­selves. It all seemed like a fever dream, a fun but unlike­ly sce­nario. In ret­ro­spect, it’s easy to see that it was zom­bie-relat­ed because that made it all the more far-fetched. This solar-pow­ered flash­light has a flare set­ting — and isn’t that cool?! But in a first-world coun­try, we wouldn’t ever real­ly need it, right?

Except now we find our­selves in an actu­al eco­log­i­cal apoc­a­lypse, our state anni­hi­lat­ed by one nat­ur­al dis­as­ter after anoth­er. Western Kentucky hasn’t fin­ished rebuild­ing from the tor­na­does before flood­ing lay waste to our Eastern Kentucky brethren. Our go box was a joke that aged poor­ly. Survival requires more than some match­es and a can of beans.

And when I think about rebuild­ing a life, I think about Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 book Station Eleven, a time hop­per about a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world try­ing to rebuild. There are no gods or mon­sters here, just art as a means of sur­viv­ing. The theme, repeat­ed many times through­out the book, is survival is insuf­fi­cient. What Mandel means is that stay­ing alive is worth­less if we lose our humanity.

Which brings me back to my go box and all the things it’s miss­ing. Where are the road maps for how to real­ly live? The blue­prints for build­ing a new exis­tence? Where is my tat­tered copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods? How will I process the actu­al trau­ma of the apoc­a­lypse with­out lots of pens to under­line the pas­sages my soul must remember? 

Today I learned that three ele­men­tary and mid­dle school libraries in Letcher County were com­plete­ly destroyed in the recent floods. A for­mer ele­men­tary school librar­i­an myself, I can only imag­ine the grief and loss these edu­ca­tors must feel. As Cicero wrote, “A room with­out books is like a body with­out a soul.” 

To some, books may seem friv­o­lous when you’ve no potable water or food. To my think­ing, books are some of the best friends we will ever make, remind­ing us that we are nev­er tru­ly alone. A library is more than spines in a row. It’s life unfold­ing, the right book meet­ing us where we are and offer­ing solace and accep­tance how­ev­er we show up. A library is a map to being a good human.

The OM Place is run­ning a book dri­ve through September 7 for these school libraries. Please drop off new or gen­tly loved books appro­pri­ate for ages 5–13 at the stu­dio. We are also accept­ing mon­e­tary dona­tions (Venmo erin-smith-288). I will reach out to the librar­i­ans to see their great­est needs. 

And in case you’re inter­est­ed, here are the 15 titles that were added to my go box. What’s in yours?

  1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  2. The Stand by Stephen King
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  4. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  6.  How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher
  7. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  8. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
  9. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  10. The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
  11. Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  12. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  13. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
  14. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  15. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

  • Erin Skinner Smith

    Erin Skinner Smith wants every­one to slow down, eat real food, move their bod­ies, go out­side, and hit the pil­low a lit­tle ear­li­er for a more pur­pose­ful exis­tence. She is a pub­lished writer, yoga teacher, and mind­ful­ness coach. When she’s not stand­ing on her head or typ­ing on her trusty lap­top, you’ll find her read­ing, play­ing gui­tar, enjoy­ing a glass of bour­bon, or snug­gling on the couch with her peo­ple and pets. Send her a dig­i­tal high five at erintheomplace.net.