by Penny M

Have you ever packed your suitcase so tightly that, to close it, you had to sit on it? I have. I remember lugging the victim of my indecision off a London train and wondering if my arm would actually return home on its own. It was a life-altering moment. From that point onwards, I have amazed family and friends with the lightness of my baggage under shrink-wrap.

Such defining moments populate my life, and I’ve come to realise that they can surface from memory during seismic seizures. Over the past few years, I have been subconsciously squeezing every grain of my life into a giant-sized hourglass. In fact, there was so much sand inside that time had simply run out.

It was time to unpack. For most of us, packing is harder than unpacking. Perhaps that is why some of us leave it to the last minute and then just throw the basics into a bag before the mind has a chance to kick in. It saves the agony of deciding if you genuinely need the extra jersey or those boots that go with the outfit you will need, if the weather changes and it snows in May.

On one occasion, I invited a friend to accompany me on a visit to my folks in the UK. When I arrived at her home, her partner suggested that I take a look at what she had packed. I inspected the piles of jerseys and pants, one for each day of the week. Matching belts were carefully rolled up and positioned in colour codes next to shoes that were packed just in case the winter sun was warm enough to show painted toes. I gave my companion the benefit of my experience, and she hastily unpacked.

Unpacking is far easier when all you have to do is empty your bag, fill the washing machine, and then return freshly laundered items to their spaces in cupboards and drawers.

Not so with life. We pour our hours into people, pastimes, health and wealth. Some might still be fortunate enough to find solace in the early hours, or Sunday space.

No, unpacking my life is a delicate matter. I have to decide what I can do without. Everything is valuable, but it’s all about balance. Just as mother earth shifts beneath us, shivering her warnings, I have to decide what mountains I need to move to make space. It’s time to reapportion the contents of my suitcase. Precious moments are to be juggled. I seek more to spend with family and close friends. I must be clever with the leftovers.

A couple of weeks ago, I attempted to push the door open that would give me access to the steps and parking area beneath our offices. The shoulder strap of my bag, heavy with laptop and homework, slipped. My lower arm strained under the weight as I caught it, but my upper arm and shoulder now bear the pain. Mobility is reduced. The experience brought new meaning to the phrase ‘putting your shoulder to the grindstone’.

I am reorganising my baggage. My dream is to turn my hobby into wealth which, in turn, will make space in the suitcases of those I love. If I arrive on your doorstep all shrink-wrapped, I hope you won’t send me packing. And so I write on …


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