One of the most beloved books of my middle-school years was Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, written by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimborough about the hilarious (at least in retrospect) trip they made to Europe following their graduation from Bryn Mawr in 1920. Which, if you have never read it, is still quite delightful almost (gulp) 100 years later. I always dreamed of a trip like theirs…or maybe I was really dreaming about an attitude like theirs. Because I have never had their casual approach to travel and, as I sort and gather and discard and assess on my way to packing for our sabbatical (which begins in just over 2 weeks), my heart is feeling anything but young and gay. Organized, kinda. Panicked, more than a little. Determined, definitely. Young and gay, not so much.
While I would like (I think) to be kindred spirits with those insouciant souls who spend a year circumnavigating the globe with a backpack the size of the ziptop bags they allow you for liquids on airplanes these days, I am actually soul-sisters with Elizabeth Peters’ (intrepid, but irritating) Egyptologist, Amelia Peabody – except without the family fortune and the houseful of servants. The only reason I am not wearing my own version of Amelia’s belt full of useful objects is that most of them would get me taken off for questioning in a small room by TSA. The Yankee dictum about making do and using up translates into a packing list that contains everything I might need in the event of tsunami, hurricane, the UK’s electric grid shutting down indefinitely, a broken arm 50 miles from medical help, venomous snake bite, nuclear winter, or a stampede of rogue elephants. And trying to fit it into the two checked suitcases we have agreed is our limit, is a challenge even for my packing skills. (And those who know me, also know that I am able to fit more in a suitcase than anyone else on the face of the earth.)
I have been in this place before (we have taken other sabbaticals, after all), but the emotional and psychological turmoil has not changed one iota with experience. It isn’t – as my husband keeps insisting – that I really don’t believe I can buy band-aids, buttons, a flashlight, sunscreen, a sweater or a snake bite kit in the British Isles. It is, rather, that I already have all those items and buying them over again seems wasteful. If I don’t bring the sunscreen that is already open, it will be losing its potency by the time I get back…and the last tube I buy in England will never come out exactly to the last drop on our last day, so it will need to be carried home or discarded there. Ditto the flashlight – how do you just abandon a perfectly good flashlight?
Plus: being prepared when I arrive means that the first two or three days are not spent trying to track down ibuprophen – which, the last time we were in France, for instance, actually was only available as suppositories (which apparently work faster than a pill) – or an ace bandage or glue for my journal or… Although, the fact is that with the jet lag, those kinds of small, brainless errands are about all I am good for during those first two or three days. And, in case you really wonder, I have actually used everything I have ever brought (except the snake bite kit which was just a joke)…not all of the band-aids or thread and not necessarily every item every time, but enough so that the idea of being hyper-prepared doesn’t seem so unreasonable.
But the spiritual challenge to me is very real every time and is still unresolved. The spiritual question is: Is this the way I want to travel my life-journey? Prepared for every eventuality I can think of? Or willing to be creative (or dead) when I could have been prepared and wasn’t?
The truth is that I think I would like a happier medium – kind of like wearing my seatbelt when I am in a car. Will the seatbelt save me if the car explodes or plunges off a bridge into deep water or gets riddled with bullets in some kind of gun battle? No, probably not. But it is a reasonable precaution for most eventualities I encounter, especially since I don’t work for the CIA or live in Colombia or Mexico City. I’d like to remember to carry a couple of band-aids so that if I cut myself en route, I can avoid dripping blood on my clothes…but I really don’t need an assortment that would rival most EMT jumpkits or hospital emergency rooms. Obviously I want my glasses and a spare pair of readers, but I don’t need three spare pairs in case I lose the first two. (Although, in fairness, I did lose my pair of readers the year I only carried one and couldn’t read a map for three days until we found the right place to buy a pair, so carrying two is not beyond the pale. Three may be.) I’d love to have my vitamins, but surviving four months without vitamins is probably not going to bring me home needing a blood transfusion.
Being prepared is my way of being in control of the risky experience of opening myself to transformation. I want to be transformed, but slowly and in the direction that looks wisest or most appealing to me. Which is kind of not really transformation. So maybe it is time to step off the high-dive and ride the turbulence. One of the things I learned about myself as an EMT is that I am instinctively calm and creative in a real emergency. I cope really well; I don’t actually panic. I am prepared for the changes and chances of life…not because of what I bring, but because of who I have become. Maybe it is time to trust myself, drop the boundaries, and take it as it comes.
I’ll let you know what I decide to leave out of the suitcases and how that “off the high-dive” thing works.
Thanks for sharing the journey with me.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2015, 2011 Immram Chara, LLC