The story is in the bag

March 6, 2008

Yesterday I splashed out on a new pair of cream coloured pants and a green shirt in order to be a little more presentable than normal at an upcoming wedding in two weeks. (My wardrobe of well worn, mostly work clothes, has now been increased by about 20%). Driving home from Hobart with my fresh purchases folded neatly in a stylish Rivers clothing bag, I began to wonder how long it would be before what was so new in the bag would become just another thread bare cloth that carried more dirt than fashion on its sleeves.

deck_repair

The photo shows where some rotten boards were replaced this past week. We constantly build, make new, repair and then throw away. The cells in our bodies do it daily; my wardrobe gets madeover every few years; the house Sally and I live in gets mended somewhere in-between.

Just like the constantly changing physical dimensions happening within and around us, can the same be said of our emotional or spiritual lives? Have any of those fond, happy memories of the past become too faded to keep around anymore and should they be discarded? Are there any emotional decking boards, once solid, now rotten, that need to be replaced? Those spiritual teachings I wrap myself in, are they still giving me warmth or protection from whatever lurks out there?  Do I really want to be so green in my life that I “recycle” and “reuse” whatever emotional baggage I have been hauling around? Probably not.

Looking now at the bag containing my new shirt and pants, I cast my mind back to the time when I sat next to a young girl on a train in Germany in 1990. The Berlin Wall had just come down and I was travelling from the former, more affluent West Berlin to the more impoverished East German town of Potsdam.

On the train were many East Germans who had just been, probably for the first time ever, into West Berlin to visit relatives and to purchase whatever they could afford of the many consumer goods available there. The girl was about fifteen, not poorly dressed, but definitely poor. She held a brown paper bag on her lap. Held it tightly, as though holding onto a treasure; possibly fearful that someone might take it from her. I imagined that she had spent whatever little money she had on whatever it was that was hidden in the bag.

She travelled alone. Never spoke a word. But every few minutes the girl would carefully unfold the rolled down top of the paper bag and take a peek at her secret. Then a smile would spread across her face. A very sweet, happy smile. And my heart opened and I felt happy for her too; happy that the Wall had come tumbling down and that the East could once again move freely into and out of the West.

No longer content to just look at her treasure, the girl started to reach in and hold the object for a short while before pulling her hand back out and refolding the bag. And all the while wearing her smile.

My curiosity got the better of me and I began to lean into her a little whenever she opened the bag in an attempt to see what was down there. Every jerky train movement would have my head and eyes fall nearly on top of her, but to no avail. Whatever was in there was tiny and impossible to see.

Finally, she reached in with both hands and pulled it out. It was a little jar of “Ponds Beauty Cream”. She opened it and with eyes closed put the slightest dab on her young face. She was glowing with joy and, although I was happy for her present happiness, I also felt a touch of sadness for this young girl because, to me, she had taken that first slippery step along the path towards living in our “western” seductive consumerist society where advertising dictates whether or not you have the right goods to be loveable. After she went through that first jar of “expensive” cream to make herself more beautiful and nothing happened, what next?

This was 18 years ago. The young girl of then would now be in her mid 30’s. I wonder if she still has managed to keep that sweet smile on her face? Does she do it by walking in the forests near her home or by yet another train trip, but this time to Paris, Amsterdam or London?

I look into my own bag and do feel a little guilty for spending money on some new clothes. But then, I think of the wedding for which I bought them. I think of the young girl again, close my eyes and imagine being at my own wedding someday (I hope). A sweet smile comes across my face and I feel an urge to dance, and dance and dance.

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