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The Baggage Department

February 19, 2011

How much stuff are you carrying, anyway?

As you get old, you are offered the chance to add to the pile of your life’s hoard of emotional baggage. This implies that when you were born, you started out with an empty cart. According to DNA and genetics, this really isn’t true, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it is true.

Let’s say that you come in with a clean slate, and all you do as you get older is add pieces of umbrage and resentment, self-pity, doubt, fear, anxiety, worries and concerns, to this pile, until the stack gets larger and larger, and you’re hauling an entire world on your back.

According to psychiatry-type people, this is not good. We’re supposed to get rid of our baggage, not add more. I had a dream some years ago, in which I was carrying around this big, rolled up moldy old carpet, until I finally put it down and left it behind in some dream-room. I took that to mean that I was ready to get over something, but I don’t know what, precisely, since my dream didn’t identify which stack of old memories, regrets, or disappointments I was laying down and leaving behind.

I remember when this metaphor came about—the idea that you had to let go of your burdens and lighten your load to gain mental and emotional health. The common wisdom nowadays runs something like this (I stole this off someone’s website): Where you’ve been in life and what’s happened to you in your life, is not WHO YOU ARE.

Is this you?

Now, my parents’ generation would dispute this. They believed that what happened to them and where they’d been was the precise definition of who they were. They didn’t believe in letting themselves (or me, thanks ‘rents) off any hook or letting go of any “baggage”, since for them, that meant you weren’t taking responsibility for your mistakes.

Nowadays, almost all ‘baggage’ you’re still carrying around is the cause of all your suffering, apparently, so when I tell you to “pack light,” I’m not just whistling dixie. This is not about getting on a plane; it’s the way we should be living our lives.

My parents didn’t realise that the ‘baggage’ they were carrying, including guilt, was a poison that ate away at them, so we’re supposed to be smarter now, or something, and disburse ourselves of all this stuff? I don’t see this happening.

Instead, it seems pretty obvious we buy more and more stuff. Does this translate to our psyches as well? Am I even capable of “letting go” of stuff, the way I’m supposed to? There’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if I do, the veritable carrot at the end of this stick: I’m going to have better relationships. If I let go of my ‘baggage,’ I will clear out emotional feng shui, my ‘relationships corner’ of life will be cleansed, and then what? I’ll live happily ever after? I don’t want to live happily ever after. I like some angst, conflict, and distress. It’s interesting. Without struggle, what would we do all day? Eat bon-bons and laugh? How boring is that?

But you know, I have tried to let go of my baggage. I have tried living without resentment. I tried clearing out my corners, divesting myself of used-up emotions, the t-shirt that’s been bought and worn and used to polish the candlesticks. It doesn’t work. I think a better metaphor, a more accurate one that would describe the way this feels, is to compare emotions that refuse to go away, no matter how much you think you can let go of them, to ocean waves that wash onto shore, threatening your sand castle.


Get these off me

What I’m best at is grudge-holding, and do not try to take my grudge away from me. The popular idea of how we have to “forgive” each other all the time now, ain’t happening in my narrow little mind. If someone has made you crazy for the last time, or gotten on your last nerve, why can’t you walk away, permanently? Doesn’t getting rid of someone you can’t stand count as unloading baggage?

Here’s the “we must all turn the other cheek” line we’re fed these days. It’s pretty nauseating:

My great grand­mother was a gold medal­ist in grudge hold­ing. The woman didn’t talk to my father for sev­eral months after he made a dis­parag­ing com­ment about her dog.  This kind of grudge hold­ing will hin­der, not help you. For­giv­ing the peo­ple who have hurt you allows you to move for­ward into a bet­ter rela­tion­ship with far less bag­gage. Think about it, who ben­e­fits from hold­ing onto a grudge? No one. Peo­ple will let you down; try not to hold mis­takes against them. After all, for­give­ness is the act of accept­ing that we are like other people: fallible.

Now, lest you think I am a terrible person, I have forgiven the above writer for egregious grammar mistakes she’s made, and corrected them. I won’t even contact her to let her know how many mistakes there were in her original. That’s how forgiving I am. But I must dispute the goody-two-shoes attitude that if only we forgive each other, we’d all be happier, more well-adjusted, and more capable of relating to one another.


I think what’s important instead is knowing what your values are and sticking to them. If someone has done something to you, hurt you, or even gone so far as to destroy a piece of you, and you forgive them, you have just given them license and permission to do it again! No one learns anything from being forgiven! They learn from pain and from feeling sorry for what they did. If you ignore them for awhile, that might facilitate their learning, and you can feel self-righteous, and with any luck, they’ll feel guilty, and that’s the way it should be, dammit.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2011 9:24 AM

    I hear what you are saying. I think there are healthy grudges and unhealthy grudges. For example, a woman truly insulted me at a time when I was trying to be of service to her and she had absolutely no reason to put me in “my place,” or the place she had identified for me. She is a state senator now and I will never forgive her because I think she would do it again (30 year later). Other grudges, such as those against family members, I have decided, over the years, that they just didn’t know any better. . . they had no idea that what they did would hurt me. I’m not saying I’ve forgotten, I’ve just decided to get past it and go forward.

    • February 20, 2011 9:32 AM

      I am glad you said that (better than I did). A distinction needs to be made between unhealthy and healthy umbrage… because I don’t think it’s always healthy to just simply forgive. Not without being absolutely certain the person you’re supposed to be forgiving has suffered as much as you just know they should. 😉

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