The Things We Leave Behind
Here are two things you should know about me:
I’m very organized.
I love to dress well.
Put the two together, and you’ve got an excellent packer. I may need a little more luggage than most people, but those suitcases will be very well- prepared.
So, when my parents let us know that we were renting a house a few hours away for two weeks, I immediately began to pack – after a bit of cheering on my part, of course.
Let’s see, I thought to myself, this flowy white skirt is perfect with the woven belt, which matches my espadrilles…
Once I had my outfits and accessories neatly lined up, I began to roll them and place some of the items into Zip-Top bags.
“Whatcha doing?” Esther asked as she walked in without knocking.
“Packing,” I said tightly. My sister is neither organized nor particularly well-dressed, and I knew she wouldn’t quite appreciate my efforts.
Sure enough, Esther rolled her eyes. “Ma told us about the trip ten minutes ago, and you’re already packing? And by the way, we are driving, so we won’t have room for your usual haul of stuff.”
“It’s been a lot longer than ten minutes,” I retorted. “Ma said I can have one suitcase, and that’s what I’m using. And if I do it your way, I’ll be throwing crumpled tee shirts into a duffle five minutes before we leave.”
“Whatever. Want to take a break and get ice cream with me?”
“No thanks,” I said with a small conciliatory smile. I turned back to my packing. There was no way I’d interrupt my work and risk leaving out something important.
Before I knew it, we were on our way – after waiting half an hour, as I’d predicted, for Esther to finish cramming her tee shirts into her duffle.
“Where’s my suitcase?” I asked Benny as we lugged bag after bag into the not-as-sprawling-as-it-looked-online home we’d rented for the next fourteen days.
He shrugged. “How should I know?”
“Ta,” I said urgently. “Where’s my suitcase? I don’t see it.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ve still got a lot of stuff left in the van. I’m sure it’s there.”
But it wasn’t. We checked under the benches and between the seats, but my hot pink suitcase was nowhere to be seen.
“What on Earth!” I exclaimed, outraged. “How does a suitcase just disappear? I prepared it by the door with all the other stuff, and we did a triple check to make sure nothing was left behind.”
But everyone was just as dumbfounded as I. No one could figure out how my suitcase had vanished.
“We’ll just have to go back for it,” I announced.
“I don’t think so,” Ma said. She put her arm around me. “It’s a very long trip.”
“Ta?” I asked.
He shook his head.
I burst into tears. “What am I going to do?”
“You can borrow any of my stuff,” Esther announced.
I eyed her overstuffed duffle. No way was I going to walk around in one of her crumpled outfits.
“Maaa!” I whined. But it was to no avail. Several hours later, after a trip to Walmart, where I stocked up on toiletries and basics to replace the some of the things I’d left behind, I changed into Esther’s mismatched pajamas.
“Take whatever you want!” she hollered from the porch off our bedroom.
She echoed that statement the next morning, leaving me to choose between several slinky black skirts and solid-colored tee shirts.
“Hmm…should I wear the black or the black?” I asked sarcastically, thinking wistfully of my flowy white skirt. But I said it quietly. Esther was being awfully generous. I certainly could not imagine extending that kind of offer to her if the tables were turned. But then again, my stuff was not the kind that could be jammed into a bag without a thought.
Esther said not a word the entire week as I worked my way through her wardrobe. She told me it was ok when I snagged her skirt on a fence when we went berry picking. She handed me her extra change of clothing when I managed to stumble and land in a puddle on my way out of the pontoon we’d rented. She convinced my mother to stop at a little accessories boutique we passed on the side of the town’s main street so I could browse. She even convinced me to wear her fancy Shabbos outfit while she stayed in a black maxi jumper that was meant for Friday night.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a challenge. I could hardly look at the photos on my mother’s phone of me in the same black skirt and plain top in every single scene. We couldn’t find the right kinds of socks or stockings in Walmart, and I had to wear Esther’s, which made me kind of uncomfortable.
But most of the time, I have to admit, I was having such a good time that I didn’t even notice what I was wearing. I noticed the colors of the sun as it rose high in the horizon in the mornings, and the way it looked as it set over the lake at the edge of our property in the evenings. I noticed the breeze that ruffled my hair as I rocked on our porch swing, and the buzzing sounds of small things out there that reminded me I was out of the crowded city. I breathed in the fresh air, ran across fields, and walked across a stream balancing on small rocks as water rushed past my feet.
We arrived home as tanned, relaxed, and refreshed as it’s possible to be after a long car ride.
“Here’s your suitcase!” bellowed Benny as we walked through the front door.
As I unpacked my pristine, untouched clothing, it struck me how fancy everything seemed.
Then it struck me how excited I was to wear it.
And then it struck me how little I had missed all that stuff after all.
I’d had a fantastic vacation. I’d been able to run and hike and wade all week long without having to worry about ruining my clothes or shoes. I’d been able to wake up in the morning and get dressed without a thought about which outfit to choose for the day. Did I look good in the photos? Maybe not, but I certainly looked happy.
No, I do not have plans to change the way I dress. I still like to look good, and I still get a little thrill when my belt and shoes are perfectly matched. But at least now I know I can be perfectly happy without all of that.
Now I know for sure that those are not the important things in life.
When we started our vacation, I had thought I’d left behind everything that mattered.
Now I know that was not really the case.