I had written this story about emotional baggage a long while back. One of my friends, Patricia Weber, had written an article about Emotional Baggage that spoke to this issue. It is an excellent article. So, I thought it would be fun to resurrect mine for that reason. So this is for you Patricia.
During preparations for weekend visitors and the road trip to follow, I pulled my bags down to get ready to pack. Samuel, my cat, was helping and looking at the bags with a very wary eye. His expression gave his thoughts away: Oh crap! Not another trip in the car again!” All this activity got me to thinking–I know, what a surprise. It occurred to me that baggage really has many meanings, as in baggage for vacations and business trips, but also as in our emotional baggage we carry around.
I remember talking with a very good friend, and we both remarked about how many people, including ourselves, have a lot of emotional baggage, and how sometimes it can be more than some can bear. Of all the baggage we pack and carry, our negative emotional baggage is often the heaviest of all. We complain about it, but we never seem to unpack it, put it down, or put it in the proper perspective.
Many years ago a puzzling episode happened that stuck with me for a very long time. I am certain most of us can vividly remember our difficult adolescent years in junior high and high school. I was fourteen and working hard to find my place in teenage society. As you can imagine I was trying really, really hard to fit in. At the time I was unknowingly struggling with dyslexia. Plus, the coke bottle bottom glasses I wore made it that much more difficult for me to adjust and to fit in. I was not part of the in crowd, so I watched and tried to follow everything the cool kids did.
I really liked English class because I loved to hear the stories and to see the pictures they painted in my mind. Reading was difficult for me. It took me a while, but I was able to accomplish what was asked of me, not always in most elegant way, but hey, I was a teenager remember?
There was a girl named Joyce who sat in front of me. She was one of the cool kids. I tried so hard to make friends with her, but Joyce didn’t seem to find me of any interest. I chalked it up to the fact that I wasn’t one of the cool kids. She seemed so smart and always had the right answers. It was apparent that the teacher really liked her. So not to be put off I doubled my efforts to be her friend. She either didn’t seem to notice or I surmised she was too busy with her schoolwork and her large following of cool friends. All my efforts to befriend her continued for some time, with little to no affect.
I loved to come up with fun and creative things to wear. I had figured out a way to use ribbons as watchbands, which allowed me to change my watchband to match the color of my outfit. Joyce, my resistant, not yet friend, seemed to notice and made a snide remark saying something to the effect that it was kind of a dumb idea. Then she asked me how I made the ribbons work as a watchband. I was thrilled.
The very next day Joyce handed me a note. I was too excited. I couldn’t believe it. I had finally broken the ice, and I now knew we were destined to be the best of friends. I would become one of the in crowd. We had an English Lit pop quiz, so I was unable to read her note. Class ended, and when we started out the door, I took the opportunity to thank her profusely for the unread note. She gave me a very odd look, smiled, and said, “You’re welcome.”
I rushed to the next class in hopes it would allow me time to finally read Joyce’s note. As I hurried, I fantasized about her asking me for a sleepover, or riding our bikes to the movies. Unfortunately, when I arrived to my next class, the teacher wanted to talk to me about something. I wasn’t able to read the note until after the end of the school day. I was really okay with that because I wanted the time to savor the message on that piece of paper. As I walked home I found a bench to sit on so I could finally open and read the note from Joyce.
You think you are so cool wearing those stupid ribbon watchbands. You think you’re so smart, and I know you are the teacher’s pet. I know you think you’re cool, but YOU’RE NOT. I think you are the most stuck-up person I know, and all my friends think the same thing. I just wanted you to know how I felt.
NOT EVER Your Friend,
Her brutal rejection left me stunned and mortified as only a fourteen year old can be. I didn’t know what to do with this new information. On the one hand, Joyce called me smart. That felt kind of cool. No one had ever referred to me as smart before. On the other hand, she said I was stuck up; me, of all people, and I wasn’t even a cool kid. At the time, that note had a profound effect on me.
I was so humiliated by the note and my efforts to become Joyce’s friend that I made it a point to avoid Joyce, as much as possible, for the rest of my junior and high school years. The funny thing is most people would have destroyed a note like that, but I keep it for many years. I was well into college before the note disappeared, or I had finally forgotten about it.
Now fast forward to recent times. I was in the area on business and found myself in the hometown where I had grown up. It was years since my last visit, so I made a point to drive around and visit my old high school, the house where I lived, and to lay flowers where my deceased parent now lies. It was late, and I thought it would be fun to have dinner at the local country restaurant where I used to go for cherry cokes after school. It was a memory lane kind of moment.
The waitress approached, took my order, and then asked if I was from the area. I mentioned I used to live in the area until I left for college. My order came, and it was as good as I remembered. At the recommendation of the waitress, I had a piece of their special apple pie. The pie was delicious. It brought back all kinds of memories of my growing up in this small town.
Her remembrance of me came as a surprise; after all, it had been many years ago. I said I was very sorry, but it had been a long time ago, and no I didn’t.
The waitress laughed and then said, “I’m Joyce. We were in junior high and high school together.” I was instantly fourteen again, and all those old feelings came rushing back. My expression must have been interesting because she smiled and went on to say, “Honey you look amazing, I want whatever vitamins you’re taking.”
Joyce continued telling me how she remembered how hard I had worked in school. She also mentioned how she had always been a little jealous of me because of my creative streak. I learned that Joyce had remained in our hometown and worked as a waitress in this restaurant that she and her husband now owned. We talked about how I had long since moved on into the world of successfully climbing the corporate ladder. We both remarked about how differently things had turned out from when we were teenagers. The note was never mentioned.
Joyce then called all the people over to my table in the restaurant who may have remembered me. All the negative memories disappeared. We had such a great time laughing and reminiscing about our teenage years, including all the stupid stuff we did together and all the stuff we thought was the most important thing in the world at that time.
Why is it we hold on to negative memories? Has our emotional baggage become so much a part of us that we don’t know how to let them go? So what is in our emotional baggage? Webster’s Dictionary tells us our emotional baggage includes past experiences or long-held ideas regarded as burdens and impediments: i.e., the emotional baggage I’m hauling around. These emotions can range from the really bad to super-fun experiences.
I find that the really great experiences in our lives, such as our first love, reaching a goal we worked to achieve, or just a great moment with friends and family, always brings a smile to our face, and leave us feeling lighter than air, positive emotional baggage if you will.
The heaviest of all our emotional baggage is our general worries, memories of our errors in judgment, our personal loses, and bad or embarrassing moments that we just can’t seem to shake or let go of. They seem to sneak up on us, out of nowhere, at the most inopportune and unexpected times, spoiling the moment and weighing us down. When they appear in our mind, we feel all the emotions the memory conjures up, accompanied by all the terrible feelings. Worse yet, we relive it all over and over again. It is as if we are helpless and unable to do otherwise.
So why do these memories have such a hold on us? I believe it’s because we are afraid to unpack them. By doing so, we have to face them and feel all those terrible feelings all over again. The crazy thing is they show up any way. When they do, we do everything in our power to push them back into our emotional bag to avoid feeling or looking at those memories.
What I have learned from my recent experience with Joyce is to unpack those memories. Really look at them and see them for what they are. In my case, that will take a while. Much as it was with Joyce and myself. With time and distance, emotional baggage and negative memories do not have the power they once did and may actually not be a memory that can cause us pain, but rather a memory that will make us smile. It is important to find a way to put our emotional baggage in the proper perspective so we can put these memories, thoughts, or feelings away or simply let them go. Life is hard enough without adding to our burden with the heaviness of negative memories that will boomerang back into our consciousness if we let them. After all, rehashing the past is not helpful, unless it guides us to do something positive or different.
What stories do you have about emotional baggage and how you were able to let them go?
Life’s journey continues…
PS: If you liked this, check out A Girl Needs Her Dad, Judge A Book By Its Cover? and A View Of Spring View. What are some of your favorite story? If you would like to write a guest post about an experience, I would love to hear from you.