Having had several opportunities to travel this summer, I’ve witnessed a growing and irritating trend – the increasing amount of “stuff” that passengers take with them onto the planes.
The rules for carry-on bags are clear enough – one small suitcase (small enough for the overhead bin or the place under the seat in front of you) and one small personal item, such as a purse or brief case. Apparently lots of folks have decided the rules don’t apply to them, and they routinely board the planes with supersized suitcases, doubled-over garment bags, shopping bags filled with souvenirs, purses, computers, and, in the winter, bulky, heavy coats rolled and stuffed into the compartments. No wonder it takes forever to board the plane and get people situated.
But the boarding process is made even more perilous these days because passengers have lots of other things to manage. How often I’ve watched individuals making their perilous journey down the crowded aisle of the plane (with all of the above-mentioned items) while talking on their cell phones, (“I just got on the plane; I’ll call you when I get to my seat”) carrying a box of pizza, squeezing a newspaper under their arm and, of course, clutching the now forbidden bottle of water.
Without a doubt, we travel with too much baggage. But the airport experience just typifies our daily life, doesn’t it? We all have too much stuff! I’m as guilty as the next guy! Even though I never hesitate to throw things away, and despite the fact that I’m disciplined and organized (some would say compulsive), with a neat, uncluttered home and desk, I have too much stuff.
I realized that again on the Fourth of July when I spent a quiet, personal day at home finally completing the process of unpacking the boxes that had come with me from Ohio. Most of the unpacking had taken place right after I moved. But there were still three or four boxes of things I hadn’t touched for over a year. As I unloaded the boxes and arranged everything on the basement floor, I wondered out loud, “why did I bring all of this stuff with me?”
There were pictures, picture frames, picture cubes and photo albums. There were candles, candle holders, statues, crucifixes, icons, religious pictures, prayer books and holy water bottles. There were mementos from my studies in Rome, my Priesthood Ordination, parish assignments, Episcopal Ordination and Installation in Youngstown. There were souvenirs from concerts, ball games, family gatherings and church events. There were paper weights, letter openers, pen and pencil sets, leather folders, and clocks that no longer worked. And there was that shoebox that my dad had packed for me about 30 years ago, a little emergency kit for the trunk of my car – with a flashlight, paper and pencil (to write down information in case of an accident) a fluorescent safety flag, tools to make repairs to the car, and a few rags to wipe the grease from my hands.
I have too much stuff.
I don’t have as many clothes as most people I suspect, but I have far more than I need. Just for the heck of it, I did a little survey and found that I own 103 shirts. Shirts of all kinds – black shirts, white shirts, long-sleeved and short-sleeved shirts, sport shirts, flannel shirts and tee shirts. Why do I need 103 shirts? I only wear one at a time. The rest of my wardrobe is similarly over-stocked, despite the fact that I just gave away a bunch of clothes.
I have too much stuff.
We all have too much stuff – in our daily lives and, perhaps, in our personal lives as well.
It seems to me that the material baggage we accumulate is sometimes matched by the emotional baggage we carry around with us, the ghosts from the past – the personal failures, the sorrows, the disappointments, the regrets, the anger, the bitterness, the pain – and lots of other things that would be better left behind.
And what about the baggage that clutters our spiritual lives? The sins of the past and present; the temptations with which we flirt; the evil thoughts, words and deeds; the bad habits and destructive relationships? Once in awhile our spiritual home needs a good housecleaning too!
In the Gospel, when Jesus commissioned the Disciples to go forth and proclaim the Kingdom, He instructed them to travel lightly. On one hand it was an invitation to depend on God alone, to trust in His Providence. But it was also a practical reminder that too much stuff can weigh us down and hold us back.
Next time you travel through an airport, pay attention to the baggage that people carry with them. And then take a personal inventory. Can your life be simplified? Do you have too much stuff? Are there material, emotional or spiritual things you need to throw away?
Let’s check the baggage. Let’s travel lightly and move forward, enjoying the freedom we have as children of God.
This column was first published in the August 31, 2006 edition of Rhode Island Catholic.