“Let all that is needed be taken; let nothing be taken that needs to be left behind.”
by Kathy Warmack
Traveling light is not a tradition in my family. I fact, I could stand up in any given situation and say, “Hi, my name is Kathy, and I am a recovering hoardaholic.” From family history, I know that the trait for hoarding has been passed down to me through at least three generations. There is no known cure for the disease.
I have found it interesting, as I have tackled the disease over the years, that the universal response when I say I am a recovering hoarder is, “Oh, you mean a pack rat?” Inevitably there is a pause and a nervous little twittered, “heh, heh, heh.” Then the different TV shows on hoarding come up.
When I meet those who are themselves hoarders, the look in their eyes, the pulling away, suggest that my confession has hit close to home. Almost everyone knows a hoarder, usually a maiden aunt whose heirs, finally being allowed to clear the estate, are faced with chaos, a tell-tale sign of hoarding.
It has been an interesting process, as I have struggled to come to grips with the disease, to truly learn to discard those things that are not needed. I participate annually in the diocesan silent retreat. I have learned, over the years, that I have a tendency to pack too much to take to the retreat but then find that I did not have what I really needed when I got there. I need all types of clothing, I think, because you never know when a balmy evening in South Texas will turn into a cold morning overnight. The Diocesan Retreat Society, which sponsors the silent retreat, always brings an entire library of books to the retreats; but what if they don’t have the very book I need? Better take some books of my own.
One year, as I was pulling things together for the retreat, a prayer came to me: “Let all that is needed be taken; let nothing be taken that needs to be left behind.” Now I say that prayer every time I pack; and I have found that my list of things that “need to be taken” has dwindled over the years just as my ability to receive the opportunity that awaits me has increased.
I have shared the prayer with others: with my daughter when she packed up her belongings and two cats and headed to New England to a new life; with a friend who was dismantling his lifelong accumulation in one place to re-marry and begin a new life in a new place; with a priest who was going to lead a mission trip to Africa (with a reminder not to forget the deodorant).
Long ago, pilgrims took only a knapsack, a staff for balance, a bedroll, and a covering from the weather. What is it that we need, the corporate we, as we journey with Jesus as companion on the way?
Packing for my very first silent retreat was a real struggle. I had it in my head that this should be a time of fasting, and my struggle was over peppermint candy. I loved peppermint candy and was probably addicted to it. What could it hurt if I took some peppermint, I said to myself. No, I should make the sacrifice to leave them at home, said my other self. Eventually I decided to forgo them.
After settling into our rooms as we arrived at the retreat center, the participants gathered in the dining room to meet each other before silence began. And there, on the table, was a bowl of peppermint candy. Not just a little bowl; this one must have been 18 inches wide and filled to the brim with peppermints.
Our glasses are not just half full; they are overflowing. Everything we need for the journey, and more, has been given to us. We must decide what of the abundance we need to take along and what we need to leave.
Kathy Warmack is an artist who works primarily in recycled objects. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.