I’m terrible at packing. Maybe you share the problem. But, seriously, for someone who spends much of her life traveling, you’d think I’d never owned a suitcase.
And it’s not just the packing. It’s the whole process of preparing to leave home. If I get to bed the night before a trip, it’s likely to be at 2 a.m. with a 5 a.m. alarm so I can finish the job.
Lists don’t help. I make lists. Starting earlier doesn’t help either. I start early, or at least early-ish. But the logistical problems remain, although the real struggle involves something else entirely.
On the surface, the first thorny issue involves choosing clothes. A relative who travels extensively in her job has shown me how easy it is. She lays out six or seven items, all color-coordinated. She adds two scarves, a belt, and two pairs of shoes, plus the shoes she wears on the plane. Her cosmetic bag stays packed. The exact right coat hangs in the closet. She grabs a book for the plane and she’s done.
Doesn’t that sound nice?
It sounds impossible. In fact, if that relative ever saw my staging area (a.k.a. living room) draped with wardrobe “possibilities,” she’d run shrieking from the house.
Then there’s the long list of tasks required before departing: running every speck of laundry through the wash so as to leave empty hampers, stocking up on paper towels and food for the family, driving to the pet store to buy the dog her kibble.
Oh, wait, let’s not leave out that classic midnight run to Walmart for non-essentials that seem so essential at the last minute.
Why can’t I do this better? Partly, I blame the weather. If you live in Texas, it’s almost always cooler at your destination. How do you envision sloshing through European puddles when the thermometer here reads 102?
Plus, I hate making choices. Do I need two black tops or three? Maybe I should take three white tops instead? Who knows what skirt I’ll want to wear in six days? I’ll just take it all. Oops, the suitcase just topped 20 kilos!
Finally, there’s the little stuff—from band-aids to dental floss. Such pesky things ought to be standing in readiness, considering how often I cross the Atlantic these days. But, somehow, the dental floss leaps to the upstairs bath; the band-aids flutter to the sun porch (could it be the work of grandchildren?). And everyone knows how mascara loves to roll under beds.
My husband looks at me in despair as I spin about. He streamlines his preparations to checking off a list of necessary papers and technology, getting a fair night’s sleep, and packing in fifteen minutes the morning of the departure. Uggh.
So, what is the problem? On the surface, it’s disorganization. But the actual reason is deeper. We moderns call it “separation anxiety.” But German poets of the 19th century had a better term: Sehnsucht, or longing.
Longing for the rivers and forests of their childhoods. Longing for mountain paths and the fragrance of wild flowers. Longing for the faces of long-lost relatives. They wrote poems and novels about it. Painters and composers joined in, and tuned Sehnsucht into a principle tenet of European Romanticism.
That’s all well and good. Maybe I should give a lecture on it (I have, actually). But, seriously, how can I be feel Sehnsucht if I haven’t left home yet?
Trust me, it’s possible. Travel, no matter how marvelous, is the antithesis of being home. For some people, that’s a reason to travel—a big part of travel’s allure. But for me, even the winding luxury buffets in our hotels on Smithsonian Journeys cannot compare with the beauty of sitting in my own breakfast nook, cradling a cup of tea and contemplating the back garden.
Home, whether the address one departs, or the images cherished in one’s memory, forms the cornerstone of the heart. It’s a perpetual point of reference. Even when problems beset our home, nothing, for me, is as comforting as my own rocking chair.
And this attachment to home grows stronger as the years go by, just as the poets said it would. “Get me outta here” was my battle cry as a teen. But today my theme is “Home, Sweet Home.” In fact, Hank and I have a framed rendition of that motto hanging on our wall, cross-stitched by a childhood friend for our wedding.
I look at this treasure each time I yank my suitcase out the door. My prayer is simple: May the trip fulfill the hopes and expectations of those in my groups; may I be of use to those I meet and address, and may God bring me safely home.
In a time where chaos and displacement affect so many people, that prayer grows even stronger. May you, too, be blessed by a dear sense of home, whether you travel often or not. May that sense of home nourish you daily, no matter what the rattle of the world around us. And, may you be far better at packing thanI am when you do go out into the world!