Summer brings us the time of the year to take a break, visit family and friends, travel around, and like always, pack our suitcases. Suitcases… or just a bag for all those who want to save the airline’s luggage fees, have to fit into a small car along with others or simply want to travel lightweight. The intention is good but we always end up needing more space and think of how easy the task would be with Mary Poppins’ red bag that left us just as astonished as Jane and Michael when we were kids. We have learnt a lot about special effects since then. There has to be another solution: taking fewer things with us.
Small luggage has a series of other advantages as well. We don’t end up with sore arms from carrying it. Upon arrival, the clothes are stowed away in a jiffy, and the same when we get back home. Wherever we go there is more room for everyone without all the big suitcases around. The effort to save space awakens the spirit of inventiveness and adventure in us when we have to make the most out of every corner and think of a million ways to take advantage of the few things we pack.
Above all it is a way to practice austerity. More than once I have come back from holidays thinking of all the clothes left untouched. And if it had been necessary, I could have got by with even less. Carrying around less makes us freer, not just in terms of physical movement.
The difficulty of selecting what to take and what to leave is, when we are honest with ourselves, the desire to wear something different every day and draw other’s attention on us. Renouncing many accessory things right from the beginning helps us from falling into this vanity. But the greatest hindrance is, perhaps, always wanting to be ready for any kind of unforeseen event without having to undergo any type of insecurity even if plans change. We want to be prepared in case it rains, in case it’s warm or cold and many other more or less likely events.
It’s not about being imprudent or reckless and endangering ourselves by not having what we know will be necessary. It would be foolish not to take water when going on a hike or a sweater if we are going to be sitting outside in the evening. Those things are perfectly foreseeable. But there are circumstances that we can’t foresee and “suffering” them is no big deal. Life is not about having everything under control. It costs a lot of energy, uses up too much of the time we need for more transcendent things and in the middle of this false security we surround ourselves in, anything unforeseen that does happen has a much greater impact.
The same pair of shoes can be good for walking around the city and with just a quick cleaning be suitable for going to mass. The trousers we wear for the restaurant can be washed if we stain them. If surprised by a rain shower without a jacket, we can run to a shelter until it eases off, etc… Going out for a walk with a rucksack full of “just-in-cases” can quickly turn into an organizational feat. We not only have to hope that when it comes down to it someone will be there to help us, or we’ll be able to get by with whatever we have at hand, but that most of all that God will provide.
It's about putting ourselves in God’s hands as the evangelist Saint Matthew describes (6, 26 and 31): Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. […] So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. We have to trust more in God and less in our limited plans and all the tangible things we worry about. So much time and effort invested and with just a breeze, God takes it away to teach us humility. The moment we embrace this we won’t be afraid to […] take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt (Luke 9,3).
Packing our suitcases for the summer can be an opportunity to put this into practice.