When we arrived to National Airport a few days ago, I hauled my pack on to my back. All 18 pounds. The weight felt crushing. I couldn’t imagine how it gained so many pounds during the 8 minute ride from my house to the airport. It was a sobering moment.
How could I possibly need all this stuff? Immediately, I was strategizing about whom to call that wouldn’t mind driving to National Airport to pick up a bag of cast-off non-essentials I’d glean before I sent my bag through security.
Of course, I didn’t do that. Instead, I unburdened myself with a grateful thud at baggage check at National. And retrieving my bag as it was spit up on the conveyor in Belize City, I became resigned to the next nine weeks.
I remember over the past few months and how I got to this moment. In anxious fits, I’d go through my bag. For weeks, people have asked me if I’m all packed. I’d say yes, since I was packed…at least for that day. But, I knew that the next day, I’d unload, inventory and swap. Re-sort and switch out. What do I really need for 9 weeks in Central America? What could I live without? It became an obsession.
Clinically, I knew my repetitive packing and repacking was merely indicative of my anxiety about the upcoming trip. A fear of the inevitable loss of control as we made our way from Belize to Panama–what I ate, where I slept, how I traveled, how clean the toilet was, when I exercised, how hot and humid it was. Even just the freedom to leave my wallet or phone (or kids) safely at home would be gone.
I realize now that each item which made the final cut was a weighty visual view into my psyche. Makes me see what I can’t let go of, and what I can live without.
So it’s time for confessions of my 18 pound pack and 4.5 pound day bag.
My first ridiculous transgression is loose facial powder. I’ve never thought to pack this. But I’ve never been 39 before. This choice was completely driven by vanity. No amount of packing or passport stamping can erase the years. I’m breaths away from 40. My complexion needs a little more help these days, as a shiny face magnifies the creases. My only consolation is that the powder will be needed as I sweatily haul 23 pounds.
Next up? A Sawyer brand bite kit which claims to safely and effectively suck out snake venom and spider or other pest bites, providing valuable time before you have to get treatment.Laugh all you want at this one. I think ‘sucker’ maybe the operative word here. I do have a history of snake and spider issues, bordering on the phobic level. But, I’ve never ever had a run in with either while traveling, or anywhere else for that matter. And the only bit of a snake I ever ran into had a circumference of a man’s thigh, and was lying dead across a jungle path in Thailand. Not sure my little snake bite kit could have helped much had I met the living version of that snake.
But it’s not just a snake bite kit that I’ve packed prophylactically. I must also confess to hauling a small pharmacy of over-the-counter items and prescriptions for everything from skin and sinus infections to traveler’s diarrhea and giardia.
My traveling pharmacy begs to reveal inner fears, even more driving than my snake and spider phobias. As a mother, I worry about things I can’t control–that my child will get hurt or sick and I’ll be left powerless to help. So, I’m hauling a lifetime supply of ibuprofen and Benadryl and enough band aidsy to dress an amputation for days. Perhaps the hardest thing about being a mother is letting go of the illusion of control. Intellectually, I know that no amount of band aids can ever protect my child from life’s hurts, but there’s still a naive part of me that thinks I can.
But it’s more than just my summer back pack that have some excess items. I’ve picked up some mental souvenirs and junk long before I became a mother. Whether I’m on the road or at home, there are still some things I stubbornly guard, stashing in and sorting out. I know I’d be better off shedding most of it.
Fears, whether they are about my kids or long held insecurities, are not as quickly thrown away as expired prescriptions. Resentments and hurts are not as easy to loose as a $15snake bite kit. And awareness of my own mortality and loosing those I love is an anxiety which cannot be left behind on the vanity of a beach front cottage as nonchalantly as a container of face powder.
What if I was able to completely let go of it all? What if I could unburden my mind of the baggage?
Sounds like more than a 9 week journey, but maybe a little bit could be started now, today, in Belize or the next town. Or the next. Perhaps every time I drop my pack off my back this summer, I commit to making a conscientious effort to remember that it’s time to let go. Time to forgive. Time to see that what I haul around in life’s backpack needn’t be a life sentence of burdens, snakes and shiny faces be damned.