I read a great book several years ago called The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. It is the story of a group of soldiers in Vietnam and the things they literally carried while at war and then the emotions they carried once they returned home. It is a profound and powerful look at the things we never let go of and what the things we carry say about who we are. At war soldiers carry things that help them survive: ammunition, guns, water, rations, etc. Some soldiers in addition to carrying their pack and their guns carried things for the whole platoon like radios or medical supplies. Some carried letters from home, bibles, pictures, lucky charms and other mementos that made them feel like who they were back home. They carried things to help their world make sense, to connect them with who they were and to help them survive both literally and figuratively.
I recently started thinking about what I carry. I live in the suburbs and my life is as far as one can imagine from combat. Yet I have carried things with me for years that you would think my very survival depended on just as the soldiers carried their weapons. I have carried other people’s opinions, past hurts and disappointments, failed relationships, pains and sorrows and “my story.” I also carry wonderful memories, joys, successes, people I love and things I am proud of. My arms are quite full.
The things we carry should be those things that help us not just survive, but thrive, the things that sustain us and give us courage and strength. If I were a soldier, I would have a picture of my family in my pocket as my family gives me strength. I would have a journal to write my thoughts and feelings and to reread things that sustain me and give me hope. I would bring a small object for luck and connection to make me feel closer to home. But I certainly wouldn’t bring the pain of a broken friendship or the disappointment when someone let me down. How would that help me trust my fellow soldiers who I had to trust my life to? I wouldn’t bring my self-doubt and fears about not being good enough with the stories from my childhood to support those feelings. They would also not help my survival.
So because I am not in physical peril at war I can afford to carry things that can’t possibly help me? Do I think that since I know I will “survive” that what I carry is not as important? What if I don’t just want to survive? What if I want to flourish? What if I want to take the hugest most delicious bite out of life every day? Will carrying my past disappointments or old demons help me? Do I need that little voice saying “why bother, you know how this is going to turn out?”
I have decided I going to repack my gear. I am only going to put in the things that will help me flourish. I am going to bring the people who uplift me, the ones who see me as who I can be and cheer for me every day. I am going to bring my family who gives me strength and courage. I am going to bring every memory that supports my best version of myself, every time when I wasn’t sure I could, but then I did. I am going to bring the times I took a risk and opened myself up to another person and connected with them in a meaningful way. I am going to bring the present moment. I am going to bring me. What are you going to put in your pack?