The devil is in the details. Or in this case, the devil robes. Let me back up. For me,
September has become the month of watching all my empty-nester friends’ trips to Europe on Facebook. They drop the last kid at college, wax poetical about the pain of their young offspring leaving the fold, and then promptly grab an Uber to the airport, bound for Paris. Sharon and I really enjoyed your trip to Spain and France this fall, but I especially liked watching the two of you hash it out via text over packing details. I know you pride yourself on taking only one small carry-on bag for an entire trip. Sharon, on the other hand, recently packed four bags for a four-day trip. One of these is her famous red duffle full of medical supplies, the Doctors Without Borders Bag. She will never be caught in the wilds of suburban Florida without mosquito repellant or Benadryl. It was with great amusement, that I followed the exchange between you two, in which you lamented that your clothes were all smoky from following in a bizarre fire festival parade in the Basque region, surrounded by people in black and red robes, some of them sporting horns. Sharon chided that this never would have happened if you had a bag large enough in which to pack your own devil robes. Fair point. Having recently forgotten my own bag during our Hurricane Harvey evacuation, I got to take a break from my stuff, living for ten days with a small capsule wardrobe from the Wal-Mart fall collection. No festival robes necessary.
All of these comings and goings have had me wondering about what we truly need, what we keep and what we give away. Expanding on an idea from C.S. Lewis and The Great Divorce, If God appeared before you and told you could go to heaven right away but you had to pack one, small carry-on bag, what would you take? Many of my friends and neighbors have found themselves in a similar position with the flooding here in Houston. At a moment’s notice, would you be prepared to get in that boat with just the clothes on your back and never look back? You are forced to make an instantaneous decision and to trust blindly. What if I lose something precious? What if I don’t have something I need?
The idea of traveling lightly appeals to me more and more as I get older. I like the idea of shedding layers of possessions. As the Queen of the Sandwich Generation, I have found my own possessions squeezed out between layers of my kids’ Legos and boxes of estate silver and china that I, literally, cannot give away. This is the first time in 10 years that I have not had to deal with a relative’s estate and it has taught me a lot. As a woman of a certain age, it hit me that my collecting days are over. Unless there is a real need to replaces something that is broken, there is not a lot I need or want to acquire. Could my things be nicer, could I upgrade? Sure, but more and more, I don’t really see the point. Every day now since the hurricane, I drive past ten-foot high piles of garbage containing previously cherished possessions, although we were dry, there is a strong urge to move everything nice to the second floor and just furnish the first floor of our house with plastic pool chairs and stuff from Ikea. It will just get washed away.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that it’s not so much what you carry with you as your relationship to it. How easily can you walk away from things? Learning to let go has been one of the most valuable lessons I have learned from the top part of the sandwich. Things are not bad in themselves but perhaps in the importance we ascribe to them. I recently came across a very fitting quote from Pope Benedict XIV: “Material possessions in themselves are good. We could not survive for long without money, clothing, shelter, and food. Yet if we refuse to share what we have with the hungry and the poor, we make of our possessions a false God. How many voices in our materialistic society tell us that happiness is to be found by acquiring as many possessions and luxuries as we can! But this is to make possessions into a false God. Instead of bringing life, they bring death,”
While I am not sure that I am ready to traipse around Europe for two weeks with just a toothbrush and a smile, I think I have gotten wiser about what I truly need to be happy. You were, right. The devil robes can stay at home!