Photo Credit: Gardner Edmunds
When I was a kid, we had one of those monstrous hard shell luggage cases that could transport obscene amounts of luggage, effectively transforming our minivan into a giant, lumbering turtle. The first summer we owned it, we crammed it completely full of baggage and mom drove us out to Utah from Colorado to visit our family. When we got to Grandma’s, we unpacked the shell, completely emptying the vessel. And then we just snapped the empty case shut and left the giant shell trussed up on the van as we shuttled around Utah…my dad had so aggressively tied it to the roof, it wasn’t going anywhere.
One night, just before rush hour bloomed on the freeway, as we were zipping north on I-15, the case was thudding and banging on the roof, the hot summer wind was raging through the valley, and my mom white-knuckled the steering wheel to keep us from blowing into the next lane. Suddenly there was a loud ripping POP! and we watched in horror as our luggage case somersaulted across the median, miraculously through oncoming traffic of the southbound lanes, and down an embankment into a field of weeds. The case had been aggressively strapped to the luggage rack… my dad had made sure there was no chance of it coming loose. But without the weight of the luggage inside, the wind tore the luggage rack right off the roof of our van.
I find myself thinking so often of that luggage case blowing down the hill.
We are like moving vehicles on a grand adventure, and we each have a giant shell tied up to the roof to carry the baggage. In our childhoods, that case is packed full of experiences and ideas and grand moments and terrible, crushing loss of innocence. For the most part, we cannot determine what is packed inside, giving weight and heft to our lives. It is filled with the baggage we carry with us as we strike out on our own.
Most of us, at one point or another, stop to take out the baggage. And my first real stop was after the birth of my first two daughters.
They forced me to pull over and examine what I was carrying. I had two baby girls, and when began to unpack, I realized I didn’t want the bulk of it. It was full of fear and molds I had been trying to pour myself into.
It was filled with desperation and apathetic surrender. It was filled with hard and glittering notions about womanhood. It was brimming with hundreds of years of handed down expectation and servitude. And untold instruments to measure my worth and acceptability and faith. It was filled with boxes and boxes of unanswered questions that I had been told to put away and not worry about. Injustices and inconsistencies and confusion that was my own damn fault for ever acknowledging in the first place.
Photo Credit: Robert Faulkner
I unpacked all that I could. I knew I could not carry it any longer, and I would not be handing it to my daughters. It was an abandonment of my genealogical legacy, family history, the ideals and mantras and precious cargo of my tribe.
I drove away, my case more hollow than full, more light than heavy with burden.
We all do this, I am realizing. In various degrees, this is how we humans roll. Maybe not everyone. Some, I am sure, roll right along and do not dare open the case to investigate the cargo, to find out if it is weight we would still like to carry. But the way we create our own experience, forge our own path, and improve upon the journey for people we love is to look it over, and face what has been packed inside.
I changed my life, drastically. And it was agonizing to leave it behind. It always is, when we take a close and honest look at the things we choose to carry.
I had hoped that I was done. My act was radical and came from a dire place inside that would be crushed by the weight of unwanted ideology. And I naively believed I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I had improved my life, and brightened the future for my girls in untold ways.
It was The One, enormous, painful, transforming reach for more freedom, less guilt. More discovery, less propriety. More authenticity, less fear.
But it is not done. It wasn’t enough, I have known now for a while. In a slow, anxious, build it is becoming more painfully present. Just as the welcoming of my first two girls had forced me to pull over and examine the contents of my shell, this last child has done the same.
Last night, I put on a white dress, curled my hair, wore bright pink lipstick and heeled sandals that made me well over 6 ft tall. It didn’t feel like me. We are staying at a lovely resort in Orlando, and while Rick is working the day away, going to meetings and listening to lectures and schmoozing VIP’s on the golf course, I am at the pool. And in the evenings, we go to work functions to wander the outdoor gathering, shaking hands with strangers. I have done this many times before, at annual actuarial conferences ripe with mathematicians and insurance executives. I have enjoyed the lovely hotels and the chance to tour around various cities and the opportunity to sleep in late, wake when I wish, and leave the daily mothering grind to the grandparents.
But last night, with my heels and my lipstick, that haunting presence of the weight I carry made my bones ache with weariness.
I no longer want to be just a woman on his arm, his satellite.
I have known this for several years now. The feeling of growing out of your own skin is a slow, building pressure, and discomfort that grows into urgency. The imminence scares me, it is regrettably familiar.
The highlight of the evening was speaking briefly with his boss, whom I had not had the pleasure of meeting before. In a quick, private moment, she gave me a lovely gift, sharing with me that she had never known a man more openly proud of his wife. How he speaks about me with admiration and respect and greatly values my thoughts and ideas.
Such words, such affirmation of his love was a forceful moment of reckoning for me.
His love for me, his support, his patient and gentle reassurances that he believes in my ability to change my self, to honor who I am and wish to be without fear or apology, that has kept me moving forward.
And he knows, as I stand next to him in my heels and lipstick, that I want more.
I do not wish to be a woman, standing forever at the ready to support her man. I have done this for 12 years, as I was trained to do.
I am so afraid. It means pulling over once again. It means going through the baggage, and pulling out pieces of me that terrify. It seems so silly that the idea of digging out my ideas of what makes me a woman and what I have to offer the world have put me into such a state of terrified paralysis. Women everywhere have been vigorously doing this work. Throwing out the limiting patriarchal bullshit and becoming more.
These women were not admired and revered in my culture.
I am looking at hundreds of years of training and expectation and gender roles and patriarchy. Thousands of hours of prayers and talks and books and lessons on how motherhood and marriage are the pinnacle of a woman’s existence, the shining glory, the only aspiration that matters.
I remember the sound of the pop, the tearing of metal as that luggage case wrenched itself free and went somersaulting into the weeds. The sight of an empty vessel, no longer needed, being ripped away. It sounds violent and scary and ruinous. It horrifies us all. But perhaps, this is the sight we all need to witness. The carrier of our baggage, being torn away, is the very moment we want to achieve. When we finally unpack all the baggage that weighs us down… we examine it, we see it for what it was in our lives. We acknowledge how it got there, and our power to release it.
And when that case gets light enough, it will tear free and blow away. We will finally be free to drive away, without the weight… just the vehicle we came in.
Photo Credit: Gardner Edmunds