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Lost Baggage: An Ode

Our recent trip to Europe had been marked by more hiccups and delays than in previous years. Despite the challenges, my theories about travel anxiety and the work I’d done through meditation and mindfulness seemed to have paid off: For the most part, I’d been able to stop ruminating on these minor misfortunes and remind myself how fortunate I am to simply be in a position to travel.

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go, I'm standing here, outside the door of my train to the airport

I’d been able to stop and take a breath when the plane left Portland so late that we missed our connection in Frankfurt, and when the train to Prague was delayed by several hours the next day. When the return to Berlin was also delayed, we were able to turn it to our advantage, convincing the conductor to let us on a different train that would actually take us closer to where we needed to go and even erase some of the lost time. Each time something didn’t go as planned, I tried to reflect on it and make a conscious effort to focus on what was good at that moment.

When we arrived back in Portland, sleep-deprived and delirious after our 12-hour transcontinental return flight, we were ready to be home. Waiting for the luggage to surface onto the carousel, I felt a little outside of myself. Sleeping in my own bed would feel luxurious, I imagined. Luggage came up, hit the conveyer, and was snatched up by other weary travelers eager to head home or move on with their journeys. The crowd grew, then dwindled. When the carousel finally ground to a halt, my bag was still nowhere to be seen.

I gave the pertinent information to a young baggage assistant who scribbled it onto the back of an envelope. It seemed highly unlikely that, in this age of digital records and automated systems, this well-meaning and sympathetic young woman’s gesture would have any bearing on recovering my luggage. We headed for home.

There, I logged on to the airline’s website, found the lost baggage form, filled it out, and clicked “send.” I got an email that said my request had been received and that most lost luggage was found and returned within 24 to 48 hours, not to worry. However, it cautioned that if I didn’t receive my luggage by the end of the fifth day, I should file a list of items lost with their office and I might be reimbursed, or not, depending on some vague formula. Now we wait, I thought.

The truth is, I don’t have a large wardrobe, so the clothing I lost represented a rather large portion of what I wear. I tried to remember what I’d stuffed into the bag at the last minute - I don’t want to carry this in my backpack on the plane, so I’ll just put it in the checked bag. Small souvenirs (some tubes of mustard, a cobblestone given to me by a construction worker) and some equipment for work (three microphones, a hard drive). When I started listing toiletries, it occurred to me that replacing every little thing that had been in the bag would be more expensive and time-consuming than I’d thought.

The days passed. I began to realize that my bag probably wasn’t coming home. I’m not too attached to things, so I initially approached it with a shrug. I took advantage of a big sale to replace a portion of the clothing I’d lost. If my bag made it home, I figured, I’d return the new clothing to the store. But there were a few things that I wouldn’t be able to replace. The now well-worn hat my daughter gave me when she was accepted to her grad program two years ago that read “Yale Dad.” A treasured Patagonia fleece vest that I’d bought in a thrift store thirty years ago for under five dollars, which had seen so many miles of trail, so many different countries, so many campfires.

Although they were just “things,” some of them acted as memory triggers, as microdoses of remembered wonder. They were tabs in my mind’s filing system, organizing otherwise unrelated memory fragments. Even the vest had served that purpose - wearing it while carrying my younger daughter from a windswept beach; wrapping it around my older daughter’s shoulders on an unexpectedly cool evening in the mountains; zipping it up tight under my chin on a snowy anniversary hike with my wife - all were listed under “old black fleece vest.” It even seemed to fit better than any fleece I’d ever owned, and with it lost, wandering about somewhere out in the world, my memory of it became burnished and hazy, more of a legend than a scrap of cloth deserved.

I indulged this sorrow, as though the memories themselves would wither as I slowly forgot about the lost vest. I talked myself through the logic of such a thing: Wouldn’t those memories still be there, somewhere deep in my brain? And wasn’t this loss minor when compared with the loss so many people experience on a daily basis? Wasn’t I lucky to have simply lost these few things and not something truly valuable?

My bag appeared nearly ten days after we had landed back in Portland. I thanked and tipped the courier and went inside to see what had survived its unexpected solo vacation. The microphones, the cobblestone, the hat - it was all there. Even the old black fleece vest had come through another adventure and returned home, memories intact.

Enjoying a cold pivo in my treasured vest along the embankment (“náplavka”) of the Vltava River, Prague

How has your summer travel been? Have you ever lost anything important while traveling? Let us know in the comments below.



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