I’ve been a sporadic journal-keeper for most of my life. My most prolific period was during my angst-ridden teen years when I wrote about everything from bad luck with boyfriends, to concerts I attended, to books I was reading. Some people destroy their youthful writings, mostly because they’re so cringe-inducing. I don’t know if it’s vanity, voyeurism or something else, but I haven’t done that yet.
Recently, when I was looking for something else in my attic, I came across some of my old journals and brought them down to read. Surprisingly, the cringing was minimal. I was mostly intrigued by my younger self, as if she was from some foreign land. And I found this poem in a collage on one journal cover:
Poets and true pathfinders have
Traveled like this: tires
Stripping pavement have been
Music to ears far finer
Than my own, but
Still I grow gladly
Into my vagabond self. I
Have died sometimes; I have left bolts and
Scraps of my life in unguarded
Corners and have smiled
In apology at my scattered,
Misstated thoughts. I am
Collected now, into one worn
Suitcase and the healing conviction
That everything left
With me is absolutely relevant.
I don’t know who wrote it, but the poem still resonates, even though I’ve been anything but a vagabond.The idea that we can boil down the true necessities of life to what would fit, metaphorically speaking, into a suitcase, rings true. The poet sounds weary, as if it took a long journey to reach that point, and maybe it does.
Especially at this time of year, when there is such a temptation to indulge in excess holiday buying, it seems wise to remember what is really relevant and valuable in life. To love and be loved, to be safe and secure, to do or create something meaningful, to learn new things, to feel healthy in body, mind and spirit — those are the most important things in my suitcase. Do I really need anything more?
A recent article by Stacey Colino in Bethesda Magazine talked about why people in our affluent area, with money, physical health and great educations, could still be so unhappy and dissatisfied. One possible reason is the constant comparing of ourselves to others. Psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal was quoted as saying, “To compare up is to invite envy; to compare down is to invite gratitude…When we compare and find ourselves wanting, we make ourselves unhappy.”
If I pack my suitcase with the true essentials of my life, I can only feel gratitude, knowing that for many others, things like love and security are elusive. But even if I had to fill a suitcase with the material possessions that matter to me, I don’t think I would have too much trouble fitting them in. A few pictures of my kids, my wedding ring, a special book or two, and I feel rich.
When I was eighteen, I saved that poem because it was romantic to think of myself as a vagabond and because I already felt that I was leaving a little bit of myself behind with each new experience. I share it now for completely different reasons. I hope that the scraps I’ve left behind have touched someone along the way, and the scattered thoughts have gathered themselves into a more focused path forward. Have I learned to compare myself only with the younger version of me?