I have a bag for every purpose: bags for grocery shopping and a heavy basket with leather handles for going to the farmers' market on Saturday morning; bags for each of my writing projects and an empty bag with "Paris" written on its side, perfect to toss a couple magazines, a book, maybe stationery for letter writing to have on a plane or the car or in a cafe. I have bags awaiting a specific purpose, big, small, fancy or simple. Some with memories of the gift-giver. Some pure luxury.
Years ago I participated on a variety of committees and boards and had a bag for each one. I would check my Franklin Planner (Remember that popular organizer?) each night and see what was on the schedule for the next day and set aside the appropriate bag. Social Ministry Committee. Church Council. Summit Hill House Tour. The system worked well for me.
Now I live in two places--Madison and St Paul. Bags are definitely required. Our house is on the market and when a showing occurs I turn on all the lights and grab a bag and leave. I play my own version of the childhood memory game we used to play at Brownie meetings. "I'm going to my grandmother's house and in my bag (suitcase) I packed..."
Recently, my car was broken into and my purse, which I had UNWISELY left in the back seat while a friend and I enjoyed a river view and deep conversation, was stolen. One of those pure luxury bags. Money, credit cards, drivers license--all gone in 10 seconds the police officer said. Since then I have been dealing with the aftermath of this theft. Most everyone I have contacted has been helpful and empathic, except the one credit card person who asked me if I was having a nice day after I told her I was calling to report a stolen card (!!!).
The aftermath, however, involves much more than the financial loss and complications. I have lost some confidence in my urban smarts and in my view of myself as someone who thinks ahead and considers carefully my current context. I am embarrassed and have even felt shame, especially when someone tells me what I should have done. I feel guilt for needing my husband's help during his busy day and also for marring the visit from an out of state friend. I feel more anger with myself, interestingly, than with the unknown person who did the deed. I feel flawed and inadequate. I messed up. What could I have been thinking? Well, clearly, I wasn't thinking.
The first couple nights after the incident I replayed what I should have done over and over again. I told a friend I wasn't going to beat myself up about what had happened, but I was doing exactly that. So often when I have sat with someone in spiritual direction I have softly encouraged, "Be gentle with yourself." I forgot that wisdom when it came to myself, but I also knew I needed to explore the lessons of the stolen bag.
Here's what Debbie Ford in her book The Right Questions, Ten Essential Questions to Guide You to an Extraordinary Life says in the chapter titled "Will I Use this Situation as a Catalyst to Grow and Evolve or Will I Use It to Beat Myself Up?"
We beat ourselves up by rehashing an event over and over in our mind, analyzing why we didn't do it better and how we could have done it differently We beat ourselves up by spending our precious energy trying to figure out how we could have avoided the situation altogether...we always have a choice to use each event to learn and grow or to use it against ourselves...
Everything in this life can be used to transform us, to bring us closer to our spiritual essence and our dreams. In other words, either we are using life in our favor or we are using it against ourselves. This is what is meant by the saying 'Life is a teacher to the wise man and an enemy to the fool.' By seeing life as a teacher, we transcend the pain and suffering we put on ourselves. And then we can spend our energy creating what we want rather than wasting it by rehashing the past.
The Right Question will immediately shift our perspective from one of self-doubt or recrimination to one of open minded learning.
So what am I learning? I am learning how often I beat myself up. I chastise myself when I spill something or forget something or don't use my time as well as I think I should or eat more than I should or am not present to another person or...... On and on it goes. I beat myself up when I mess up, and I mess up often. Writer Joyce Rupp reminds me to greet myself mercifully."
I imagine if I had been more mindful in the moment I locked the car door without taking my purse with me, I would not have found a broken window when we returned to the car and therefore, I hope I will be more mindful, more present, but the lesson right now is to remember that I am human, and humans mess up. My lesson is to do what needs to be done and move on.
I am going to my grandmother's house and in my bag I packed forgiveness, gentleness, humility, mercy, and mindfulness. What's in your bag?