Saturday, July 18, 2015

What Packing Is Like When One Is Going Far Away for Two Years




My Air France ticket allows me three 50lb bags or boxes.  My travel agent informed me that it is considered a ‘humanitarian ticket’.  I don’t know if that’s because they think I’m doing humanitarian things or if I’m the humanitarian case.  But in these days of airlines charging for everything (putting one’s seat back, use of the fold-down tray, trips to the toilet – ok, it’s not that bad yet, but the trajectory is not promising), I’ll take my three bags without pressing anyone for clarification.

However, three bags are, well, three bags; and I’m an American.  And we Americans do stuff better than anyone on the planet.  So even I, who have lived in someone elses furnished upstairs room for two years, have gone cross-eyed the past couple of weeks trying to figure out what to do with all my stuff.  I have made multiple trips to the local Good Will equivalent.  When did I accumulate eleven pairs of shoes?!  I’m now down to six (including two pairs of running shoes).  I had enough t-shirts to clothe a Kenyan high school.  I counted 8 pairs of running shorts. Eight!  Granted, I run a lot, but this sounds pathological.  So in addition to donations, I also sent two stuffed suitcases, a box, a suit bag and (sadly) my viola back to South Carolina with my father and step-mother.  So now the stuff that I have is even colonizing the storage spaces of other innocent people like some invasive species.

Then there are the things I can’t take with me, nor can I store, nor can I fob off on unsuspecting relatives.  Instead I am hoping that today there might be some kind people around here who would like to give some of my stuff a new home, like my printer/scanner, copier, or my preternaturally giant Miracle-Gro-fed Dracaenia, or my speaker system for my computer, or the wingback chair I bought so I could have a place besides my bed to sit, or the table I bought to put beside it, and the lamp I bought to put on top of the table (it is so, so easy to justify getting more stuff!), or the half bottle of American Honey Wild Turkey Bourbon that I can’t get away with drinking right now because I’m preaching tomorrow at church.  So all of these things I am removing from my room and putting in my van and looking for unsuspecting people upon whom to dump them.  And if that is unsuccessful, maybe they can find a new home with someone at my church.  Happily, someone wants to by my minivan, Maxine.  But I can’t deliver Maxine until I have finished delivering all this other stuff that I have discovered that I have.  All of this is preliminary to my actual packing.

So it turns out I have agreed to take with me a lot of books for a Kenyan colleague who is working on a PhD, and other books that are meant for the seminary library at Makarios III Patriarchal Orthodox Theological Seminary.  And then there are some of my books that I would like to take with me.  After winnowing as much as I could stomach (my first effort at a book box was 80lbs), I’ve finally got a box that has books, three pairs of shoes and a pillow, coming in at 54lbs.

And now I’ve got a suitcase in which I am going to try to put almost all of my clothes, and a box in which I will put the rest of my clothes (including jackets, suits, shoes) and then the rest of the stuff I have to take (including the very tacky little Christmas tree given to me by my dear cousin Amy Lou, which actually lights up when you plug it into your laptop’s usb port.  It's an eastern Kentucky thing.  How can I not take that Christmas tree?).  There are a bunch of icons, a camera bag, documents, pictures, a mug, a clock, my Bible, my cds.  This doesn’t include my dying laptop and my new laptop which I hope to turn into my carry-on luggage.  Anyway, the designated box I have for all this stuff reminds me of my old Isuzu pickup truck, which seemed perfectly adequate when I bought it but seemed rather embarrassing when with the size-matters-when-it-comes-to-pickup-trucks-crowd that used to be my parish long ago.  I really think what’s called for here is a shipping container.

I’ve been in this position before.  It always seems like it’s an impossibility, this cramming of one’s life into this much volume and this much weight.  It always causes restless tossing and turning in the middle of the night for weeks before one travels.  And there’s always the moment of hysterical panic when one discovers an entire closet of stuff one totally forgot about.  And then, I remember what I pray every morning:  ‘God, grant that I may meet the coming day with spiritual tranquility….’  And I remember that every other time I’ve been at this point, whether responsible for just me or for my family of four, somehow, it has all worked out.  It’s just it’s a challenge when one is still on this side of it all, still figuring out how to make it all fit, what to take, and what to leave behind.

And then there comes the point when I realize that there isn’t anything I really need.  The most valuable things I have can’t be boxed up or weighed.  Airlines can’t charge a fee for them (yet).  The most valuable thing I have is my relationships, both on this continent, and the one to which I am going.  I could get on my plane without any of this stuff (including phone and computers), and I would be just fine.  Ok, maybe for everyone else's sake, I should take my toothbrush.  So all this internal anxiety and pressure I feel, it must be some sort of trick.  I still have some packing to do.  But it will get done, and everything will end up where it’s supposed to be.

Well, now that I have achieved some sort of resolution, I think I’ll celebrate by finding some of that American Honey…