“Life is a series of comings and goings. The trick is not to forget your baggage.”
These words were sent to me written on a card some 25 years ago. The card was sent by a friend who’d gone off to college before me. We’d been doing high school theater together for a couple of years and had grown close and I’d missed him as a new year of theater rehearsals had started. His card put a smile on my face as did his stories of getting settled into his freshman year of college.
I thought of that card today, and the words written on it. Mostly because I was thinking about baggage. Not the good kind you want to take along on your next vacation or weekend getaway. The other kind. The kind that we can’t forget, no matter how distracted we might be or how hard we might try.
You know what I mean. The baggage of the heart.
Such baggage doesn’t just get set aside. Or stored away in the upstairs closet. Or left on trains or in car trunks or beside airport gate area chairs. Such baggage sticks with us. Like its fulltime job is reminding us of where we’ve been and how that might keep us from where we want to go. Such baggage is equal parts grief and heartache and betrayal and loss and anger and emptiness, the combined forces of which are, when let loose, a mighty thing indeed to be reckoned with.
We all have it. In one shape or size or form or another, we all have it. On our best days, it serves us well–catapulting us with the sort of strength honed from challenge and adversity into whatever it is our life is beckoning us towards. On our worst days, it serves more as a deadweight. Like someone tossed a cement block in the bottom of your soul and there’s no way you’ll be able to lug it up and carry it forward.
These days, I wonder if “the trick” is not about whether we forget it at all (because the changes of that are slim), but about how we manage it, if we must carry it with us. This is easier said than done. And it often depends on the moment as to how well it happens. Some days, it’s as easy as simply sliding that chunk of what has been into the pocket of my day bag and getting on with things. I am who I am and all that, but no letting it define me, hamstring me, trap me.
Other days…good lord…other days it’s like I dragged Great Aunt Matilda’s horsehair trunk out of the family attic and decided it’d be a great idea to try to cart that thing around all day. Because, you know, it’s My. Stuff. It’s my life–good, bad and ugly–all cooped up in there and I’m going to bear it like a coat of arms if I need to.
Because sometimes our baggage makes us feel safe. Even if it brings out the worst in us, wreaking havoc on our days with its deadly accurate memory of past hurts and failures…even then, we know it. We understand it. I mean…it’s ours, right?
Right. Except…you can’t tote that trunk too far. It weighs you down. Keeps you from moving very far or very fast. Blocks efforts at transformation or renewal with its heft and makes us hesitant. Timid. Insecure.
Which is when you might think about saying: Back it up, sister. Pump the brakes. Not like you can get far with all that business you’re carrying around anyway. It’s time to take a long, hard look at what needs holding on to, what refines you, and what needs letting go of.
(…like the notion you can’t end a sentence with a preposition. 😉 )
What I’ve decided is that our best bet lies in making friends with our baggage. Or, if that seems to much to ask, at least declaring an easy truce and safe distance. There’s a whole lot I don’t know, and am not sure of, but one thing I do know, and am sure of, is this: We cannot change the past.
There is no editing what has been. No softening the edges of the things have threatened to destroy us. The brutal things in this life happen. And we don’t get a do-over.
But if we’re very, very lucky…we do get a second chance. We do get a future. We do get the possibility of something or someone or some place new. And where our baggage gets placed along the way, how it gets managed (or simply set aside) on the other side of it all…well, that’s maybe the most important thing. It’s a hard thing…letting go of all that baggage after all. And maybe even impossible. But letting it control us? Define us? I can’t settle for that either.
And so, I think what I’ll settle for, pray for, do my damnedest to remain open for, is the tremendous mercy of the slow work of grace…moving its away across our lives with such careful and determined intention, showing us, if we’ve eyes to see, that all is not lost. That there is hope. That there is a way forward.
And maybe–I’m not quite convinced, but just maybe…that baggage helps something beautiful be made known, such that we are led to exactly where we’re meant to be.