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Checking Baggage


Published: 06/14/2012


I’ve been lucky enough to travel and see places I’d never dreamed of visiting. I’ve even got used to long flights and waiting in airports, although it’ll take a while before I’ll be easy with the intense security checks these days.

My problem with travelling is packing. It’s the business of figuring out what to bring ‘in case’ it is cold, hot, rainy or all of them on the same day. I never get it right. I forget important stuff and take things I never wear. I’ve gone on a long trip without pyjamas and, one time at a fancy hotel, while getting ready to go out for dinner, I discovered the dress shoes I’d packed consisted of a brown left shoe and a black right shoe.

And there’s the ‘what if’ stuff; what you’ll need if there’s an unexpected opportunity to attend a special event. I mean, you never know, maybe invitations will surface to meet some dignitary or go to Buckingham Palace!

I know I should travel light, with a small bag. It probably won’t happen soon. At least I don’t pack for the palace. If the Queen invites me, I’ll buy or rent the appropriate stuff.

It’s a relief when my bag, all tagged, jiggles its way out of sight on the airport conveyor belt. It’s out of my hands; I can’t add or remove anything. I can sit content in the departure lounge with my fellow passengers.

Departure lounges these days are filled with fascinating people in all sizes, shades of skin and wearing everything from serious suits to loose pyjama-like outfits apparently rescued from old gym bags.

There’s a man nervously checking his pockets for his passport, ticket and boarding pass, each time adding to his anxiety by shifting them to a ‘better’ pocket. Sitting across from him, a woman, who has asked at least four people if this is the
right gate, gets up to check once more, this time with the gate attendant who
has just appeared.

Also in the departure area is a young woman nervously flipping a textbook’s pages, highlighted and tabbed with stick-on notes; she’s not reading, just going through the motions. Close by, a thin, angular man is surrounded by a cluster of cloth, plastic and paper bags, treasures he daren’t entrust to the airline or let out of his sight in this world of thieves.

There’s a confrontation at the gate. A man, his face red with anger, waves his ticket and boarding pass in the attendant’s face, as he tells her what he thinks of the system and the airline.

Looking around, it is clear, in spite of our care in packing, that most of us set out on our journey -- and travel through life -- carrying baggage we can’t leave at the check-in counter or in closets at home. We bring things like anger, tension, anxiety, fear and other habits with us. It is the sort of baggage that’ll have a huge influence on whether we have a good holiday or a successful business trip and will govern how we react to the unknown and unexpected.

I suspect all of us lug around that kind of baggage day after day, like an invisible backpack we put on as we awake each morning. Why don’t we pack up the negative stuff, like anxiety and fear, and dump it?

It’s because we have been led to believe we can’t be anything other than what we are. Popular wisdom today tells us that our character -- who we are -- is determined by our genes, by the early years of our lives, the environment we
live in and even by the year of our birth. As we can’t change any of that, we are stuck with who we are. Nothing can be done.

Well, to believe that is to believe a big thing! If our lives are determined by such things, if we are not free to choose what we do or what we’ll be, then ultimately we are not responsible for anything. If that is so we are to be most pitied.

Of course, it is nonsense. We know we have choices to make. We know old habits can be broken, new and better ones learned. We can do better. After all, I’ve trained myself not to keep checking my documents in the departure lounge.

Jim Campbell is an Oakville-based writer. Send comments to or via post to 115 George St., Unit 604, Oakville ON L6J 0A4. 

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