Last summer I spent 5 weeks living in St.Augustine, FL at Discovery Yoga’s teacher training program. I packed my Subaru Forrester to the hilt with bags of clothes, boxes of books, and a crate of dishes so I could make my own meals. I had my bike on the back of the car and my kayak crammed IN my car (less noisy than driving 2 days on I-10 with a kayak on top.) I lived in a small room on the bottom floor of the facility, with a bathroom and kitchenette around the corner. I had a full life that summer, studying yoga but also riding my bike downtown and kayaking the Intercostal Waterways. I didn’t read all the books I brought and I didn’t wear all the clothes I brought and I surprised myself with how little I needed. Just me and the Subaru, filled to overflowing.
This summer I spent 5 weeks in Europe, leading a group of students to Scotland for the first two weeks, and then traveling solo to England and then France for the final weeks. I gave my students the ultimatum that we would all travel with just a carry-on suitcase and a backpack, knowing that traveling light = traveling happy. So I faced packing for 5 weeks and 2 climate zones with a little trepidation. Scotland was sure to be cold and rainy, so the waterproof boots, jacket, and pants had to be included. Southern France (Taizé!) was forecast to have temps in the upper 80’s. So capri pants and sleeveless shirts had to come, too. I was required to bring my own towel for Iona Abbey in Scotland, and my own sheets for the Taizé Community. Plus, this was the first time I’d traveled overseas with a gluten-free diet restriction, so I anxiously added about 25 protein bars to my suitcase.
My carry-on was bursting at the seams as I lugged it on and off buses, trains, and ferries. I heaved it up stairs and down, and cursed those protein bars every time the luggage racks only had space available at the top. My backpack was competing for 2nd place in the cursing department. It was crammed full of too many books (again with the books!) and my iPad, as well as all the electrical converters I would need, snacks for the day’s travel and a refillable water bottle that was always full (water is heavy!)
Each time I arrived at my destination, I discovered that living out of a carry-on was actually quite simple. Getting dressed was a breeze. The question wasn’t, “What classy outfit can I put together today?” The question was, “What clothes are clean today?” I didn’t have to think about what shoes to wear, either. If it was cold, the boots came out. If it was warm, the running shoes won. Every third day was laundry day – washing clothes in the sink actually works! And somehow air-drying in the French countryside added a fresh scent even to my much-worn socks! I didn’t do too much reading, but I did a lot of writing in my journal, processing all of the amazing experiences of my trip. Living out of a carry-on suitcase for 5 weeks, I had a simple life. I had a simple routine. I had what I needed. And yes, I had just enough protein bars!
Now that I’m home, I’m finding the choices overwhelming. The first time I opened my closet door, I got dizzy. And those who know me understand that my closet is neat and tidy, organized by category and by the color spectrum (ROY G BIV!) But all the organization in the world couldn’t soothe my spirit that day. I’m back in my own kitchen, full of gluten-free options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But I’m mystified at how to put all the ingredients together to make a meal. I’ve been eating black beans and salsa for way too many meals now. And don’t get me started with all the projects facing me at work. I knew that I had a tendency to say “Yes!” to every interesting idea. But returning to my office to find 12 clipboards full of notes about upcoming ministries was more than a wake-up call. My life is more overstuffed than my carry-on was.
So it’s time to get back to the essentials. What do I really need? Can I get rid of some of these clothes? And can I simplify my pantry? But more than anything, can I let go of some of my interests and projects at work? Along my journey, I let go of some things. A bag of gluten-free rolls that molded. A shirt that was uncomfortable got donated. Pamphlets from historical sites I’d visited had to be recycled.
The one thing I was able to add along the way, without weighing down that carry-on, was relationships. A clergy couple and their teenagers from San Francisco, whose 5-week itinerary almost matched mine. A delightful Iona volunteer from Indiana, in the midst of discerning a call to the ministry. A spirited clergywoman from England, supervising the center at Iona and leading with compassion and class. A fellow pastor who, in the midst of planning a move from Scotland to the US, made time to join us for an evening of traditional Scottish dancing (a ceilidh!) An old friend from Iona, who welcomed me and nursed me back to health in Cambridge.
A roommate at Taizé from Barcelona who bravely shared her story of loss and enabled me to recognize my own healing.
A fellow college chaplain from the Netherlands who shared not only great ideas for connecting with students but also a listening ear. All of these relationships enriched my experience and strengthened my spirit as I journeyed.
Looking back, I see how I hauled too much baggage across Europe. On that journey, and in everyday life, there are some things not worth carrying. One thing I’m learning: all I need, I carry in my heart.