“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life… you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV… the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home… I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office… and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.”
– Up In The Air (2009)
I’m not sure if I can ever say it quite so eloquently or quite so sadly as George Clooney did when he played Ryan Bingham in “Up In The Air,” but after the last few days in the hoopla of the final and rather surprising selling of my house, not the only house I’ve ever lived in but certainly the most significant, I can say that I agree with our handsome friend.
Traveling is a funny thing. When we’re on the road, we depend on the little we have on our backs. Which is probably why many of us sweat wondering what we’ve forgotten, double-checking for our phones and our keys and our credit cards and if you’re me, a pair of ear plugs and extra underwear. By the end of a trip, as much as I always love the destination I had the pleasure of visiting, I’m always a little relieved to be free of this stress and to be back at my house, my house, where everything is where I put it and everything is comfortable, familiar, and ordinary. In a life of uncertainties and insanity, it is this ordinary, this average, that is effortlessly grounding.
However, when you have to give the place you live to someone else, a total stranger, your life is at ends with itself. When I think about someone else who I don’t know and never will know sitting in the exact place I’m sitting in now, closing a broken window that is mine and running down hallways that are mine and stumbling into doorways drunk that are mine, it makes me pretty uneasy.
Unfortunately, this is the way of the world. I’m a 22-year-old postgrad living in my mother’s house so quite honestly, I have zero say in the matter, and rightly so. I can’t make my family and my childhood toys stay in a place that I would desperately love to move out of just so that I can always know that they are there, my life, my ordinary, waiting patiently for my return on a particularly gloomy weekend.
It’s at this point where we have to ask ourselves: How much do I weigh? When your house is gone, when your life is gone, you have to restart. You have to look at your life and arm yourself with what items, what memories, and what people matter, and you have to create a new home within yourself.
And this is travel. When scavenging the open road, we don’t have our comfy beds and our mother’s cooking and the safety of our locked windows at night. Instead, we will stay in unfriendly rooms with people we will never see again and we will pack our toothbrushes up after using them. In this way, what we do in our travel is what we must do in life when it is time to reevaluate, move on, and restart. We create homes inside ourselves while packing as little as we can possibly fit into our patched backpacks.
Because, as always, for an impenetrable shield, stand inside yourself.