For the last several years, I’ve used a small wheelie suitcase as my briefcase.
I had initially purchased a super-fancy leather backpack as my designated “work bag,” but my company laptop was incredibly heavy and I found that I was constantly lugging it back and forth to my home. I kept complaining that my back hurt, but somehow wasn’t putting two and two together. So one day, my husband, watching me developing adult scoliosis, gently asked: “Do you think the extra ten pounds you’re putting on your back every day might possibly be hurting you?” He suggested that I look into wheelie suitcase briefcases.
At first, I resisted. I’d seen the way people glared at those heartless souls who casually let their wheelie bag sweep over other people’s feet on the subway without giving it a second thought. I didn’t want to be one of *them*.
But eventually I gave in. My husband has a real fondness for gadgets, so he went and researched the very best ones and bought me one on line.
For the next two years, although I was teased incessantly by my friends and colleagues, I grew to love my wheelie bag. Whenever anyone innocently asked me, “Where are you off to?” – thinking I was travelling somewhere exotic for vacation – I knew that the wheelie bag was really my own, private unspoken metaphor for the fact that I already had one foot out the door of that job. The wheelie bag reminded me of my ambition to eventually leave and follow my dreams.
And then one day, my wheelie bag exploded. First one wheel came off and although I knew something was wrong (there was that loud scraping sound every time I pulled it), I could still manage to get around the city by pulling it on one wheel. Less than 24 hours later, however, the second wheel came off on my way into work. Now, I had no choice: I had to literally pick the wheelie bag up off of the ground and carry it around like a child.
At first I was terrified. The wheels, after all, are what provided the bag – and hence me – with structure and purpose. I counted on them to take me where I needed to go. Plus, if you’ve never picked up a wheelie bag before (and why would you?), try it. They’re pretty damn heavy, especially if you have a laptop inside.
Which in turn made me realize that I’d been clinging to structure and purpose all my life, but more out of habit – or possibly fear – than out of desire. All of my jobs had provided me with a coherent super-structure to plug into. Whether or not I particularly enjoyed what I was doing was immaterial. I had a script to follow and I just put my head down and did the work.
Families also provide a structure. When you’re young, you look to your family to shape your identity and give you a place in the world. When you grow up and have a family of your own, part of being a parent is managing the structure of the family for your own kids: giving them rules, setting boundaries, pointing them in the right direction. There are, of course, loads of unscripted moments, but while I enjoyed those, I felt safer playing cop.
To be on your own, literally carrying your life in your hands without anyone to guide you, is a terrifying prospect. But it’s also liberating: you can walk in any direction you wish, you are forced to slow down, and you end up making much more mindful choices because you are made aware (literally) of the weight of your life.
As a friend of mine puts it, you begin to “walk in the direction of you.”
I probably would have started doing that anyway, but I think the exploding wheelie bag gave me more confidence to do so.
As I pass my days right now, contemplating what’s next for me professionally, experimenting with new and unforeseen twists and turns in that thinking, and facing an uncertain future, I try to remember those days when the wheelie bag broke and yet I managed somehow to get where I needed to go, albeit circuitously.
Thank you, wheelie bag, for empowering me to navigate uncertainty and feel to OK without someone else to guide me.
Originally published at realdelia.com