I got to spend a couple of days working with one of my favorite business partners in Dallas this week. I was there to help him develop a short-term strategy for his training and consulting business. For some people, a good business partner is one who sends a lot of clients their way, or shows loyalty through investment. Me? I can tell I have a good business partner when they send me an email like this:
Not sure when you are landing but we’re sorting canned goods at the local Food Pantry on Tuesday eve – 7:00-8:15. You would be most welcome to join us. -Mark
I had to take him up on the offer for two reasons. First, I have a ton of respect for Mark and what he represents. He is one of those guys who puts everyone else before himself. His attitude is contagious. Makes you want to return the favor. Case in point: knowing that Mark was picking up the tab for my travel this week, I reciprocated by renting the cheapest car I could find. “Jim’s Repo Depot” turned out to be a real value, especially when you consider they waive the deposit if you promise not to use their vehicle in a mob hit.
The second reason I took him up on the offer is that it’s good for the soul. In doing a bit of research this year, I uncovered that one of the building blocks of happiness is serving others. And here was Mark, my friend and colleague, making it easy. Business can wait. Hungry people need food for cryin’ out loud!
When I landed, I drove my recycled getaway car 45 minutes to the Plano Food Pantry where I met Mark and a team of youth that he mentors. There, I managed to slice off the end of my toe in a can sorting accident. Apparently, flip-flops are not the best choice of footwear when wandering around a crowded food pantry with metal table legs jutting about. The good news is, Jim’s Repo Depot is used to blood stains on the floor boards, and I had stashed some extra Band-Aids in my lavender suitcase for just such an emergency.
The service project set the tone for our time together. In between business meetings over two days, Mark and I shared some personal stories. I even got to go to dinner with him and his family. By the end of the trip, I found myself wanting to stick around. Wanting to help him more. Buoyed by Mark’s generosity, honesty, and integrity and the way he lives his values.
I stayed as long as I could, but time got away from us. I had to hustle to the airport. Traffic was ridiculous. By the time I got to the rental car facility, I had less than 30 minutes to catch my flight. I quickly handed the keys to the rental agent, who popped the trunk to do her customary search for Italians wrapped in plastic. She found nothing.
Not even a purple suitcase.
Where is my lavender bag? The humiliating rolling suitcase? The one that carries shoes, clothing, toiletries, and my last vestige of masculinity? Did it get stolen? I wondered.
Not a chance. What the suitcase lacks in color, it makes up for in poor quality construction and inadequate size. No traveler in their right mind would lay a hand on my bag.
That’s right! It’s small. I must have laid it in the back seat.
Maybe between the seats?
My search of the car turned up some duct tape, a rag, a shovel, a Sinatra CD, a half-eaten meatball sub and cement overshoes.
But no purple bag.
Panic set in. The rental agent could tell something was amiss.
“Are you OK?” She was looking at me as if I had forgotten to bury the body.
“No. I think I may have left my suitcase at my hotel this morning.”
“Oh,” she said, clearly disappointed at my mundane response. “Do you need to go back and get it?”
“I don’t have time.”
You might think I would be happy with this development. I’ve been schlepping around this purple suitcase for the past three months. And our rules state that if I do not have a working replacement, I could buy a used suitcase. Perhaps a nice black or gray. I could be rid of the purple suitcase!
Instead, I felt a rush of worry. How could I leave all of my stuff at the hotel? Running shoes. Business clothes. Medications. Toiletries.
I called the hotel.
“Hi. I was a guest at your hotel this week. I checked out this morning, about ten hours ago. I think I may have left my bag in your lobby. Have you seen it?”
The man on the other end of the line spoke in a deep baritone. “Is it a purple bag?”
“Yes. That’s it.”
“Yeah. Ain’t nobody touched your bag all day. It’s still sittin’ right here.”
I sensed disdain in his voice, sprinkled with a dash of pity. But it didn’t matter. I knew my bag was safe. Relief. Like finding your child after he’s been lost in the circular clothing racks of a department store.
I immediately texted Mark.
“Hey Mark. Funny thing. I left my suitcase at the hotel. Could you pick it up on the way in tomorrow? I’ll pay you to mail it to me.”
He responded, “Sure. Let them know I’ll pick it up.”
Then I reminded him that it was a purple bag, to which he replied,
“I’d better have Katherine go get it instead.”
Apparently, Mark’s charity only goes so far.
I continued on to my flight. Barely made it. It was a moment of stress in a wonderful week, but I was grateful. And then I realized that my anxiety was not about the possibility of losing my stuff. It was just stuff, after all. Devoid of meaning.
But it was all about the suitcase. This purple bag has grown on me over the past few months. The bag and what it holds. Not the contents, but the meaning.
Every time I drag that purple box behind me on a short business trip, I am reminded that life is not about stuff. I am reminded that I don’t have to buy in to the myth that what I own defines who I am. I am reminded that truly knowing a person starts with peeling away all my perceptions created by their possessions and getting to the heart of what makes them tick.
Because life is kinda’ like that purple bag. We fill our days with stuff. Actions and activities that may not seem like much. But the spirit we devote to those tasks says a lot about who we are. So, today, I can wrap my life with a spirit of worry and self-importance, creating meaning only for myself. Or, I can choose to wrap my life in a spirit of giving, a heart for service, and a knowledge that my meaning is derived from passing on the grace I’ve been given.
And that’s what I call traveling light.