Every drawer is stuffed with things, every cupboard is overfull, and every shelf is stacked to the top. In our closets we find racks of clothing that we not worn for years – clothing that was given to us but which we never wanted, clothing that no longer fits us, and clothing we bought but never liked in the first place. And all around the house there are stacks of books, old letters, photographs, music tapes, records, videos, magazines, bric-a-brac, and memorabilia. Then there is still all the furniture, the appliances, the dishes, the tools in the shop, and the puzzles, stereo and video equipment, and a variety of puzzles and games. We blink in unbelief. Where did all this stuff come from? How could we have accumulated so many things?
I remember leaving home to enter the seminary at age seventeen. Everything I owned in the world fit into one medium-sized suitcase (and it wasn’t full). Now I can’t go for even a week carrying so little. From a certain point onward in our lives we begin to accumulate things, often without really realizing it.
But what we really become attached to and begin unhealthily to store is not so much the material stuff. Almost imperceptibly, just as is the case with all the things that slowly stack up in our drawers, cupboards, and basements, we also begin to store other baggage. This kind of baggage, much more so than the material things we accumulate, makes it hard for us to move, especially to move gracefully into final chapter of our lives. What, imperceptibly, begins to stack up inside of us?
All the things that we become attached to and draw life from, namely, our grandiosity, our wounds, our sexual fantasies, our creature comforts, our distractions, and our even our health and our physical life itself.
The first thing that generates surplus baggage in our lives is our grandiosity. It feeds off our achievements, successes, ambitions daydreams, and the recognition we receive in life. The more we achieve the more we store up. Next come our wounds – the hurts, resentments, and rejections that we have suffered through the years. All of the times that life has been, or seemed, unfair to us leaves us with a basement virtually full of photographs, memories, videos, and tapes that we want to keep around – to look at or replay as needed. Then there are our sexual fantasies, our imaginings (both noble and coarse) of consummation, of sexual fulfillment, of physical and emotional ecstasy. These we store in boxes more discreetly tucked away. And there are those things that aid or help insure our comfort – the right living space, access to good food, good drink, good entertainment, good stimulation. Then there is the psychological bric-a-brac of our lives: our television sitcoms, the sports scores, the talk shows, and the current gossip and humour about the celebrities in the culture. Any extra space inside ourselves is crammed with these.
Finally there is health and life itself. To ensure these, we have, literally, cabinets full of medicines, vitamins, and cosmetics, along with a basement full of exercise equipment – matching all kinds of internal baggage we have stored as a resource to insure health, youth, attractiveness, and life.
Like the rooms in our houses, every day that we live, our internal rooms too fill up with more and more stuff – valuable things, toxic things, and junk. We all carry a lot more baggage now than we did at seventeen and this makes travel difficult, especially the travel that is asked of us as we get older, namely, the journey to become a gracious older woman or man, an adult, an elder, one who has aged gracefully, can bless the young, and let go of life without anger or silly clinging so as not to end up an embittered, old fool, but a happy, holy fool.
Julian of Norwich states that we will cling to God only when we no longer cling to everything else. Richard Rohr agrees with that, but expresses it this way: As we get older, he submits, the real task of life, both in terms of human growth and life in God, is to begin to shed things, to carry less and less baggage, to slim-down spiritually and psychologically to match the meagerness of the possessions we had when we were seventeen years old and could still put all we own into one little suitcase.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I go back again. The Lord gives and the Lord takes. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Adulthood is contingent upon appropriating that.