I’m turning another year older today, complete with an extra gray hair, a spare wrinkle, and a bit of rumination on the past. What went right and what went so, so wrong with many events including some unblending of a once blended family. I question God, the Devil, and my own decisions. I guess, like many, I have baggage.

It’s quite amusing to be on dating apps at this age. You could also say “sad” or “frustrating”, but I prefer “amusing” as it lightens the load. It’s even MORE amusing to see people who are 45 and claim “No baggage here. Drama fee.” I always swipe left on these characters.

How on earth can you get to 45 years of age without baggage? I would say you are not much of a traveler.

My large blue samsonite suitcase (now 25 years old) and small Tumi orange carry-on (15 years old) have accompanied me as I flew to Europe for love, got trapped in Bolivia during civil unrest, made it to India find peace and pray, and took my daughter to Yellowstone to play. Both bags waited faithfully in a closet as I wept over dramatic breakups, threw glasses at the wall from custody litigation, and sat down each year to write out my wishes for the future. One wish stays constant. “Give me the courage to try again.”

I am far from baggageless. The scars on my heart are tender and I don’t even know if the wounds were ever stitched up properly. I’ve been hurt, betrayed, confused, and angry. I’ve also loved and been loved fiercely. And I’ve had friends whose laughter is annoyingly loud, they are so darn resolute to find humor in any situation. All that has happened in my life has given me depth of character. I have more compassion for others and a greater understanding of nuance. Friends and family have not only stood by me on all my travels, some have traveled with me, with their own set of bags.

One will never look at me and say “Well she just skimmed the surface of life.” Oh no, I’ve dived to the darkest depths, sometimes with not enough oxygen. But I always come back up to feel the fresh salty air on my face.

If given the chance to go back in life and redo things, maybe pick an easier baggage-free path, I’d say no. I am who I am: “headstrong yet passionate”, “loud but loving” because of my travels. And the thing about those of us with baggage–we are able to truly enjoy those small beautiful moments of life, because we know how fleeting they are. As I watch my daughter happily catch a ladybug, I realize my intense love for her and my fear of losing her are interwoven in the same fabric.

As Kahlil Gibran wrote:

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,the more joy you can contain……When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

This birthday I’m keeping it simple, to run with my daughter through the neighboring field, share a chocolate cupcake with rainbow sprinkles, and maybe talk about the next trip we will take together. With my baggage.

We all have our baggage, and I think the trick is not resisting it but accepting it, understanding that the worst experience has a valuable gift wrapped inside if you’re willing to receive it. –Jeannette Walls

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