When we are born, each of us is handed an empty suitcase and the general instruction, "Here 'ya go, kid! Fill it up." And from that moment on, we start filling it with experiences and memories and plans and hopes. Most people fill it pragmatically, making sure everything is orderly and neatly folded. They choose with care exactly what is to go into it and where it is to go. When it becomes too full, they remove or shrink older items to make room for new ones.
Not, alas, I. Almost anything within my reach goes into my suitcase. Big things, little things, important things, trivial things...no matter. If I have seen it or experienced it or contemplated it, in it goes. And no one said I couldn't have more than one suitcase, so as soon as one is filled, I grab another and start repeating the process. Suitcases then give way to steamer trunks and steamer trunks to crates and crates to shipping containers.
All well and good, except for the fact that we must then carry our baggage with us whenever we move, physically or emotionally, from one place to the other, and the older one gets, the more there is to carry and the harder it is to carry it all.
You might think that physical baggage would be relatively easy to get rid of. That old threadbare chair? The chipped platter? Simple: just pitch them. But I bought that chair when I first moved to Los Angeles. My lost love Ray sat in it. My mother sat in it. Aunt Thyra sat in it. Friends now long dead sat in it. To throw it away is to throw part of them away. That chair is a tangible piece of the past. I have only to look at it and I can see everyone who has sat in it. It is a buffer between me and the cold winds of time and reality.
That chipped platter? It is the only remaining piece of a set of china Mom bought for Norm and me when we were together. I have not used it in years and probably won't ever have occasion to use it again, but how could I throw it out?
I'm fully aware of how silly and counterproductive it is of me to make such strong connections between inanimate objects and people, and how impractical it is to keep things just to keep them. Having too many physical things limits options for mobility. If I want to move from one apartment to another, I have to pack it all up, carry it wherever it is I'm going, and then unpack it. To not be tied to any one place, to be able to take off for wherever I wanted to go whenever I wanted to go there is a dream totally negated by the knowledge that I couldn't possible do it...what would I do with my things?
When Norm died, I had to get rid of 40 years of his physical baggage. The minute he died, its value to him ended. The same will of course be true of my indispensable things when I go. But until that moment...
And the problems created by physical baggage are nothing compared to those of mental baggage. They can weigh down the soul to the point where it can be nearly impossible to move forward with one's life. Regrets, grudges, and longings are the reefs and shoals in the ocean of life.
Who we are as individual human beings is too often dictated by our emotional baggage. The heavier the baggage, the less able we are to throw it off and, worst of all, the less able we are to change what we know should be changed. Temerity, distrust, fearfulness are all direct results of our emotional baggage and they stifle growth as surely as a rock set atop a seedling.
And what can be done, at this point in time, to deal with the problems we have largely created for ourselves with our various baggage? It would depend on how hard we are willing to work to do it...on what we can force ourselves to part with. Alas, it is one of those things I fear are far easier said than done.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1 ).