Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Travel Prep Hysteria
OK, I’ve already tipped my hand with the title of this post. Let me elaborate.

The Diocese provided us with extensive lists of things to do and things to purchase/take (vaccinations to get, prescriptions to get and fill, how to apply for all the necessary visas, a long list of things to purchase/take, etc.). I faithfully did all that.

We were to fly out from St. Louis on a Tuesday morning after a 3-day weekend. In my view, this was most fortuitous, as it gave me oodles of time to organize and pack. I had completed all my chores and shopping by noontime on Saturday, leaving me 2½ days to organize and pack. I thought that would be a piece of cake. After all, I have spent over 15 years of my life jet-setting all over the country, often packing for a weeklong trip in just 3-4 hours, so this should be no problem, right? Wrong!!
When I had traveled before, I had traveled to places that had electricity, water, food, medical services, etc. When push came to shove as I packed for Lui, I found myself whirling in circles about how to pack for such an alien place. How many batteries should you pack, knowing you will be in pitch-darkness for 10 nights? How many extra bottles of water can you stuff in your suitcase when you hear that the drought in Lui is vicious and all the wells are drying up? How many clothes do you actually need to take? Do you really need to take 2,000 calories per day of “powerbars” in view of the food shortage? I found myself spinning in circles, looking at all these items I should take – these items I “needed” – and being paralyzed by the decisions.

But I got lucky. Chris, the friend who was driving me to the airport, arrived some hours early, and just slammed things into my bags. My marginally-OCD-self was standing there decrying her complete lack of organization. But my better self was just grateful that someone came in who was willing to pack in what she could and leave the other chips to fall where they might. As it turned out, this was a blessing.

I suppose this was the first critical moment in which I had to recall Michael’s words: “I knew that if I was going to make it through what was really a very short visit ... it would be by God's providence.” In the words of the evangelicals, I needed to “let go, and let God.” This was my first vivid “object-lesson” in the American obsession with “stuff.” I might not have enough “stuff” to get me through the trip. I might forget some “stuff” that would make me more comfortable. I might forget some “stuff” that would make me independent of the people around me. I might forget some “stuff” that would insulate me from the poverty and desolation that virtually everyone in Lui experiences every day. "Stuff ... stuff ... stuff...." Looking back later, I realize it was all about "stuff."

Mind you, I did not perceive it that way on that day. At that time, sitting comfortably in mid-Missouri, I had no idea how “stuff-obsessed” I was. I only came to that conviction after I had been in Lui for a few days. In Lui, with each passing day, I found myself sloughing-off or disregarding more and more “stuff.” One of the gifts of the trip, for me, was a growing awareness of the difference – the dramatic and obscene difference – between our “stuff” and our needs.

Lord, have mercy.

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