Week Nineteen: "Traveling Light"

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:

Hey Scott,

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.

Uh oh.


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.

Week Five: It's In The Bag

Disclaimer:  The following rant highlights how trivial our first world problems are.  Feel free to be disgusted and annoyed.  In fact, it’s expected. Well, we’re five weeks into this little experiment and things are getting lost and broken at a record pace.

Gabby lost her favorite travel cup.  The insulated one with the straw and the screw top.  Since our house has no shortage of containers with which to hold ice water, she’s out of luck.

Jake lost his basketball, too.  He loaned it to some kids at school who didn’t return it.  He was devastated, thinking they had pitched it into the woods.  He even searched there after school with no luck.  It turns out a Good Samaritan had spotted it and taken it to the lost and found in another classroom.  Thankfully, Jake and the ball were reunited, and I didn’t have to play the role of dream crusher by saying, “Sorry, we can’t get another basketball Jake, because your parents are psycho-idiots who don’t think they should buy any new stuff for a year.”

The old fridge in the garage is on the blink as well.  As further proof of global warming, it is only cooling our food intermittently.  Since I am a complete and utter failure when it comes to appliance repair, we’ll be knee-deep in leftover chili and half-frozen peas if it goes.    A second refrigerator is definitely not a necessity.

Then, last week at breakfast, a blinding light erupted from our toaster oven.  I thought it might be an angel of the Lord, coming to settle the spontaneous debate between Jake and Audrey as to the gender of her stuffed animal.  Imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be a blown heating element.  Not only will I never know whether Crushie the turtle is a boy or a girl, but now it takes four minutes per side to brown a slice of bread.  I called Cuisinart for a replacement part, and they simply said,

“That’s not a fixable item.  I think it’s time for you to buy a new unit.”

Apparently, they don’t follow the blog.

But the most troubling loss was my rolling suitcase.  She’s like a family member.  A rich brown color with four fully-articulating wheels and a pleasant disposition.  She has a telescoping handle with extra length to accommodate taller folks like me.   Always at my side - every week for business travel.  Happy to carry my burdens without complaint.

But I pushed her too far.

Irritated after a long wait on the jetway, I yanked her handle a bit too hard.  The handle cracked, and one of the telescoping arms ripped right out of its channel in the back of the suitcase.  Shoving it back in was a bit like trying to shove a Twinkie back into its wrapper - requiring patience and lots of mumbled four-letter words.  I was able to get the suitcase back into semi-working order, but I knew it wouldn’t hold up under duress.

I looked for other options.  Gabby had purchased a beautiful new red rolling suitcase last year.  It’s clean, and uncluttered.  She caught me eyeballing it and said,

“No way, mister.  That’s my suitcase!”

“But we’re family.  Families share.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Because your version of sharing involves you using my stuff, breaking it, and then giving it back to me.”

She has a point.

So I dove into the bowels of the closet looking for an alternative.   Ideally, I would find a very small suitcase that might fit in the overhead bin of the tiny jet I was flying this week, allowing me to avoid the long wait at baggage claim.  After some rummaging, I found what I was looking for.  The perfect-sized suitcase.  A bag that could meet the simple requirement of holding my garments and keeping them safe and dry.  But there was just one problem.

It was purple.

And no, we’re not talking royal purple.  Not even violet.  This suitcase is lavender.  If this bag had a scent, it would smell like an infant Liberace wearing your grandmother’s perfume.  No self-respecting businessperson would dare be seen with a bag like this.

But I have no self-respect.

And I’m not buying anything this year.

So I packed the bag and prepared for my trip to Denver.  I stuffed it full of workout gear, business casual clothes, and socks.  Yes, I remembered the socks.


I got to the airport and cleared security.  Everyone seemed to glance at me, then glance at my bag.   Their eyes would then scan the area for a thirteen-year-old girl.  Finding none, they would avert their gaze to save us both the embarrassment.  It didn’t help that I was humming a Justin Bieber tune that was playing in the airport shuttle van just minutes earlier.  Damn that kid and his catchy lyrics!

As I was standing in line to board the plane, I heard a voice behind me.

“Excuse me, sir.”

I turned to see a businessman in his mid-forties.


His eyes were burning a hole in my suitcase.  He continued,

“Please tell me I’m not the only one today to give you $#*! about your purple bag.”

“You’re the first to verbalize it.”

“Good.  I was just checking.”

I didn’t know what else to say, so I boarded the plane and looked for my seat.  I quickly shoved the bag in the overhead along with my coat and settled into 14B.  I fell asleep not long after we took off.

I awoke as we were landing.  The plane made its way to the gate, and, as usual, everyone jumped to their feet as soon as the doors opened.  A blonde woman in the row in front of me gestured to the man standing behind me.

“Could you hand me my bag?” she asked, pointing toward the overhead bin.  “It’s the rolling suitcase right next to you.”

Without missing a beat, the man reached up and grabbed the purple bag.

“Sorry.  That’s mine.”  I said.

“Really?”  He stopped and stared at me in disbelief.


“Nice.”  He said, before grabbing the appropriately-toned black bag next to it and handing it to the blonde in 12C.

It was another moment that affirmed for me how much our “stuff” can define us in our culture.  I actually found myself wondering if I should let my client see my little purple suitcase.  As if the quality of my work is somehow reflected in the color of my luggage.

I only have to look to myself for the answer.

How many times have I discredited someone’s worth based on the clothes they choose to wear, the car they drive, or the things they choose to buy?  I’d like to think I see past all of those things, but I’d be lying if I said such judgments never crossed my mind.

So I hope that is a little side benefit of this challenge.  That I will re-learn what I knew as an infant.  Our worth is not wrapped up in what we own.  Our worth is guaranteed.  Our life is our currency.  And it’s up to each one of us to choose how we spend it.