Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lightening the Load: TMB

At dinner my niece cuts off a too-graphic description of handling blisters along the Camino: "TMI!" She shoots me a look, and it's one that I know she's received in recent memory. She's a quick study. She's also right: this is not genteel dinner conversation. TMI! Too Much Information!

I file the insight away. What counted as appropriate table talk on pilgrimage doesn't work off the trail. Pilgrims are hungry for any miracle foot treatments -- and it's appropriate to impart them at any time of day or night. Normal people, however, are not. Chalk that up to the jolt of re-entry, about which Lisa wrote earlier.

There's another jolt of re-entry, one I want to attend to. Just as we shift conversation topics, so we find our needs altered. Again and again, I've run into the feeling of simply having too much stuff. After carrying everything on my back for four weeks, I come home to a house full of things I seem to have needed four weeks ago. They suddenly seem superfluous. TMS! Too Much Stuff! Or more pointedly: TMB! Too Much Baggage!

I read a book on Camino, tearing off chapters as I finished them. Wally Lamb's smart coming-of-age novel, "She's Come Undone," got filed in trash receptacles across the top of Spain. I took the daily lectionary readings, which lived in my back pocket, until I found the right place to leave them. Once it was on a cafe table in Villafranca del Bierzo -- and the waiter crossed the plaza to return them! During the first week, we'd systematically go through our backpacks to identify everything we'd brought that we didn't really need, arrange it into a tiny shrine in our hotel room -- and walk out the door, never to see it again.

For a while I looked for our discarded gear on people who'd pass us. Then I even stopped looking. The backpack in the photo above weighs about 18 pounds, down from about 24. I didn't even really need all of that.

Now, back in ordinary life and surrounded by normal people, it's easier to adjust my table talk than shake this feeling of simply having too much baggage. What can I get rid of? That's a negative way of asking the real question: what do I really need?

This winnowing process works on several levels. Possessions are the easiest to identify -- and deal with. But we also carry relationships. Some we should, and some we carry out of habit, familiarity, or inertia. Relationships too can become just extra "baggage." Finally, there's the baggage we bring into relationships. I'll confess: I come encumbered. How can I unburden excess possessions? How can I lighten relationships that have become onerous? How can I unburden myself? How can I be a lighter spirit, present in a more gracious way?

Finally, even more baggage: I'm a world-class worrier. I always have a Plan B in place, should Plan A fail. Moreover, I not only have the plan, I even have all the gear for Plan B. I even have gear for Plans C and D!

What usually happens, of course, is Plan Q. Which turns out to be better than anything I could have scripted -- and for which all the right "stuff" miraculously appears.

So how can I unburden myself in that way? I'm carrying about 25 pounds of possible outcomes and all the attendant frets that go with them.



  1. Hi,
    This year our "Theme" at St. Olaf is migration so we're thinking a lot about movement and pilgrimage is, of course, one sort of movement. So, my chapel talk in the series stared out being about various variations of the theme; because it was coincident with Muhlenberg's commemoration day, I thought, "missionaries are a sort of migrant, etc." The more I worked, the less I liked it.
    Then I read a Muhlenberg letter lamenting that he was always on the road, unable to do his farming work of really taking care of one congregation.
    So, the point I came to was this: along with our journey through life, it is important to recall that in Christian life God's motion, coming to us, is vital. Indeed this is the movement upon which all others depend.
    Not precisely on your theme, but perhaps of interest nonetheless.

  2. Absolutely on the theme. Is this Augustine's insight that throughout the life he spent searching for God, God was in fact searching for him. We move into meaning and mystery -- only to be stunned by graciously mystery has been moving toward us.
    Thanks for thinking about this -- and for being a pilgrim with us on the Cyber-Camino!