Today I just want to share one of my favorite short stories.
Excess Baggage by Mary Morris
Women must learn to carry their own luggage, emotional and physical, before they can truly venture out.
Years ago I journeyed to Europe and took with me excess baggage. Among my material excesses were assorted electrical appliances I'd never use, high heels that made no sense on cobble-stone streets, dozens of pleated skirts and sweaters of high school vintage, weighty guidebooks I abandoned on trains, jackets for all weathers, and all those innumerable items called accessories, as if they were accomplices in crime. Along with heavy bags I carried a heavy heart. My inner baggage-- a desire to be taken care of, an endless search for love, and excessive needs--weighed my down. I spent much of my journey standing in train stations and bus terminals waiting for a porter or some other man to come to my aid.
Excess baggage is a symptom of something we are missing on the inside-- a fear that we won't be accepted for what we are, as if our selves are not enough. We bring too much of our past experience, the clutter of our emotions. These things get in the way and keep us from getting close to others. Then we are left with the task of having to find someone else to carry it, whether it is our luggage or our loneliness.
It was my friend Carol who taught me the value of lightness. A few years ago I went to Peru, where she was living. I had just ended a long relationship and I overpacked because I wanted men to admire me so I would feel better about myself. I arrived in a bad mood. We flew to Lake Titicaca and hired a boat to take us to the island of Taquili. En route we encountered a storm. Arriving four hours late, in pitch darkness, drenched to the skin, we still had an hour’s hike up a steep incline and then down again to get to the village. Everything in life looked grim as I crawled up the slope.
A small duffel slung over her shoulder, Carol scrambled up the hill like a mountain goat while I dragged myself and my possessions over rocks and mud. Carol had had some difficult times lately as well, but she was able to put them behind her. She was annoyed with me, but finally she took pity. Grabbing one of my bags, she said,” I’ll help you with this trip, but next time, lighten up,” referring to my entire being.
In the end I would have no choice. On the journey from Peru to Mexico the airlines lost my bags. What I had left were the clothes on my back and a carry-on with a pair of jeans, t-shirts, a sweater. At first I was obsessed by my missing things, as if I’d lost a part of myself. I wanted to stay in Mexico City and await their return, but I was meeting a friend in San Miguel. I went straight to San Miguel, but my friend hadn’t arrived and that night I had nothing—no possessions, no people—to distract me from myself. I spent a dark and anxious night, troubled by memories and a concern for what lay ahead. In the morning, the Mexican light streamed in like a blessing.
I went to the market, where I was struck by the colours and smells. Fresh mangoes and gladiolas, raw meat, flowers and grains, burlap sacks of lentils and beans.
I bought an avocado, some cheese, tortillas and beer, put them in my small pack and walked down the road heading out of town. I walked through hills covered with cactus and wildflowers until I reached a lake, and there I sat, in the heat of the day, having a picnic with myself.
I forgot about my luggage and all the other baggage I carried with me. I settled into the freedom that lightness brings. I wandered the hills. Unencumbered I moved for several days from place to place. When my bags were finally located, having spent some time in Honolulu, I wondered why I thought I needed all that stuff in the first place.
The women referred to by 19th-century writers as ‘traveling ladies’ were often romantic dreamers, going off into the wilds or in search of ‘the spirit of the East’. Women who were explorers in the early 20th century were a different breed—goal oriented, directed toward scientific enquiry.
The women of my generation are also explorers, although our field work is of a different sort. We pioneer in uncharted emotional terrain—entering new professions, living with or without husbands, bringing up children alone, choosing a career and the single life. Or any combination of the above.
What we bring as we forge ahead tells a lot about who we are. A large part of independence is learning to carry out own weight. As long as women ask others to take care of their physical or psychic luggage, we will always be searching for emotional porters, not the equals we say we desire.
Though an arduous process, over many years and via many mistakes, I have tried to shed luggage as a snake sheds skin. With each journey I bring less. I gain more. In clothing I have acquired less burdened by the weight of self—the self I had opted to journey with. And I’ve learned what every traveler needs to know along the way: scream if you must, smile when you can, and travel light.