Archives For baggage

'Fagor Pressure Cooker Lid' photo (c) 2010, Julie Magro - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Not all family tragedies erupt with sudden explosions of violence. Some tragedies are far quieter, silently simmering for years like a pressure cooker. The children never hear a cross word exchanged between their parents, but even if they lack the ability to articulate just what it is, they know. Children are notoriously perceptive creatures, and even if they lack the words, they feel the tension.

And then one day something is different. The pressure, the tension, has unexpectedly been relieved. The valve has been turned, the lid is off the cooker, and the steam evaporated into the air.

'@ Steam' photo (c) 2009, Pete Birkinshaw - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Likewise has their family dissipated into the ether like steam. It has ended not with a bang, but a hissing whisper. Quietly swept away like gossamer on the wind…

Not all tragedies are loud things. Instead of an explosion of emotion, there is an implosion of the soul. “Why did this happen,” the child asks (perhaps not in so many words)? “Am I to blame?” There are no words, no navigator, to traverse this inner landscape. One parent is gone, and the other working desperately to hold on, provide a semblance of stability.

'Atomic Bomb Test' photo (c) 2012, SDASM Archives - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/

Too late.

The bomb has quietly gone off. Where before the child was whole, he is now a fractured soul. Unsteady, unstuck, unanchored, he is a ship in the long, dark night headed, like Titanic, for a berg. Collision is inevitable when one has no concrete sense of place, no place that feels like home. Untethered, the child wanders rootless, without purpose.

'Tom Riddle's Diary' photo (c) 2012, Sarah_Ackerman - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Life becomes something merely to be survived. Like Voldemort split amongst his horcruxes, it is a fragmented existence–a half life. Like Harry, the child will spend the better part of his life trying to find the pieces; unlike, he is not trying to destroy them, but piece them back together into a meaningful whole. Yet so often this is akin to placing square pegs into round holes: things may indeed be forced into place, but they are not a good fit.

And they slip, or cannot be dislodged–except by force.

This child? He is a child of divorce.

I am the child, and this is my story.

What is yours?

I have put off writing about Packing Light for some time. Reading it, for me, was like the frigid splash of a mountain stream to my slumbering face. It represents the antithesis of how I have lived. For somehow, rather than packing light, my life has been one of encumbrances; both the emotional, and the physical.

I hold onto things.

God knows why. Perhaps it’s growing up a child of divorce, having my family sundered, that compels me to hold onto the things I think which will make me happy. Yet, it never seems to work. Not the books I buy (I have hundreds sitting on the shelf unread), nor the gadgets–phones, tablets, computers, televisions, what have you–not the clothes with which I try to regain my lost youth (“Dad,” my son says, “stop dressing like me”).

Nothing, not one blessed thing, has been able to fill that gaping void left in my soul.

And yet how I’ve tried. How we’ve tried, my wife and I. The house we moved into twelve years ago, the one we called our “dream home,” came with the reality of a mortgage, maintenance, upkeep, stairs that we we tire of climbing…

The dream has become a reality. And expenses multiply. Yet, we hold onto it, for where else would we go? We have family here, friends here, our kids have lives here. But when the air conditioner needs work, when the carpets need replacing, when the garage is full to near capacity with clutter–it feels far more burden than blessing.

The weight of the quotidian obligations weighs far heavier on my shoulders than I ever thought they would. And this Atlas can’t shrug: a family counts upon him to provide: basic necessities, stability, love.

There is (it seems) neither time, nor energy, for the kind of journey which Mrs. Vesterfelt’s book describes.

All the energy goes to holding on…

It is into this life, this mind and heart, that Packing Light came as a slap in the face. I wanted to hate it, to vilify, and excoriate it. But I could not.

First, because the prose was so lithe and supple–beautiful in a way that I was both jealous, and couldn’t stop reading: “Your starting point matters when you go on a trip. It is your only frame of reference for what to bring, and what to leave behind. It is your foundation, your beginning. If, along the way, your realize you’ve been heading the wrong direction, you might change your trajectory, but you can’t change where you started. You have to leave home to go on a journey, but you can’t leave home without having a home.” Second, because I knew she was right: it is not the things to which we should cling tight, but rather the people:

It’s relationships, and shared experiences, that are to be savored.

None of things will take us–take me–anywhere in life. And I certainly cannot take any them with me when the faith shall become sight. This deeply personal tale of a trip across America was a deeply convicting read. Which, if I’m at all honest, is reason number three why it’s such a necessary tonic:

The book made me uncomfortable.

I do not presume to speak for you, but I’ve seen–particularly in conservative, evangelical America–uncomfortable is not something we like to be. It’s far easier to call down fire from heaven upon our neighbors (or family) than it is to traverse the dark rivers of our own hearts. We don’t want to go there.

We want, and know we need, to cast off our baggage. But we don’t want to do the work.

Because we’re afraid of what we’ll see there.

In Packing Light, Allison Vesterfelt takes our hands on this inward journey, and says in a gentle voice (redolent of Another’s voice), “You can do this. I’ve been there. It’s not easy. But it is worth it. Come along. You’ll see.”

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How are you, or are you not, packing light?