If my suitcase could talk, what would it tell me?
Would it tell me what happened that night 6 months ago when I let go of its hand(le)?
Would it tell me where it has been all this time?
Would it tell me whose fault it was that it got left behind?
Would it tell me when I messed up? When I took my eyes off this seeming extension of my right arm?
All speculation as to who, what, when, where and why fell to the ground yesterday when my long-lost suitcase made its way home.
After traveling more than 10,000 miles with my Travelpro carry-on suitcase last August, arriving back in the USA, long day’s journey into night––queuing through Passport Control, baggage claim and Customs––somewhere between the Atlanta airport and Macon, GA my suitcase took a side trip. Somehow my suitcase failed to make it from a hotel shuttle to my brother-in-law’s van in the parking lot of a hotel where he had parked for the duration of our 2 week trip. But we did not discover my suitcase was missing until late that night, when we got to their house, an hour’s drive south of Atlanta.
Speaking of side trips and segues …
This reminds me of the time my preschool daughter took a side-trip. Actually, I lost her twice. The first time was so scary that I collapsed in her grandparent’s front yard, imagining in those moments I might never see her again. She came rambling back down the sidewalk in a Southeast Dallas transitional neighborhood and I fell to pieces.
The other time I lost her, she was 5-years-old. Grandparents had come to visit us in Pampa and we planned a lake day. Seated behind my husband James, in my arms I held my newborn baby girl Rose while older brothers John and Jordan higgledy-piggledy seated themselves in our family station wagon––this before mandatory car seats and seat belts. As James backed out of the long driveway, I looked to my left and saw my daughter Erin sitting in a tree she had climbed. Gulp! Oh, what a terrible mother am I.
3 stages of lost
In our family, we refer to the 3 stages of lost.
The first stage of lost is I can’t find something, but I haven’t really looked for it.
Stage two, I’ve looked for it but I haven’t given up hope.
Stage three, give up. Replace it if it’s something you need.
Having traveled from Scotland via Amsterdam to Atlanta, GA, I had 2 days after discovering my suitcase was lost to locate my missing suitcase before flying home to Lubbock.
All efforts failed.
That first night, lying awake when I wanted like everyone else in the house to be sleeping, my emotions fluctuated as if I had a raging fever. Somewhere between anger and blame and worry that my suitcase would wind up in the hands of identity thieves, the fever broke and the anger drained away. I fell asleep at dawn.
I wasn’t mad at anyone except myself. Ultimately, I was responsible for losing my suitcase. Let it go.
What was in that suitcase, anyway?
Graciously and with much generosity, my husband let me replace the lost items, including the suitcase. Every time I could not find something, I would say, “It was in my suitcase.”
But last week, a call on my cell phone, one I almost didn’t answer because the number was unknown, as it turned out came from a hotel in Atlanta. The woman on the other end of that call asked if she was speaking to Carol.
“Do you want your suitcase?” she said.
What? Are you kidding? My suitcase? Where is it? Where has it been?
At another hotel, not the hotel where my brother-in-law had parked his car, but apparently at the hotel the shuttle driver worked for, my suitcase has sat these many months, shuffled about while other suitcases came and went. And my suitcase sat unclaimed.
How could I claim it? I didn’t know where it was. We had checked with the shuttle driver. We had convinced ourselves that it wound up in a dumpster somewhere after contents were rifled and removed.
Still, miles to go before I could sleep. I made arrangements for UPS to pick up my suitcase last Friday, prepaid its shipping, and … waited.
The woman at the hotel wrote down the wrong house number on the UPS shipping label she had to fill out, even after calling me back to verify my address.
Banged up a bit, a little worse for wear, most likely from its UPS trip from Atlanta to Lubbock, the pink luggage tag waved to me from across the street.
“Coming home,” my suitcase said.
And at that moment, even if my suitcase had been empty of its contents, spent all its fortune, I rushed to see it again. Held its hand(le). Beamed.
Amazed, really. Grateful. Tearful.
Unzipping the main compartment, everything as I had left it, buckled up. I wish I had taken a picture.
Thinking back to that night 6 months ago and prayers first that my suitcase would be found and returned, and then later that same night surrendering my suitcase and its contents to God, I had given up on the first request and accepted third stage lost.
Almost as if a switch flipped, I began to think about loss. Real loss. And how things, no matter their value and meaning, are still just things.
And coming home has less to do with what happens along the way than with how I respond to what happens.