Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Suitcases in my Closet

They've been waiting.

Silently. Patiently. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Collecting dust. Sitting motionless. They're waiting - the suitcases in my closet.

There's the small black and gray rolling carry-on. The one that I got as a going-away present from Norfolk Chrstn Lower School the year I left. That was the last year I was "Senorita Jeter," the Spanish teacher. The year before I went to China.

One of my little pig-tailed students in her navy blue school uniform lugged it down the aisle that chapel service when the teachers surprised me with gifts for my trip. With all the teachers and students from kindergarten to fifth grade watching, the tiny blond girl solemnly pulled the suitcase all the way up to the front where I stood, teary-eyed and overwhelmed. The teachers said it was to get me started on my travels around the world. They made me open it, right there in front of everyone, and pull out the goodies they'd crammed into the pockets and compartments. Stickers, stamps, construction paper, flashcards, children's picture books, travel-size toiletries, and bags of chocolate and candy for the road!

That little carry-on bag has been around the world with me. I've taken it to China, Costa Rica, Germany, Korea and Japan. I've used it in L.A., Texas, Chicago, New York, Kansas, Minnesota and Miami. It's bumped and rolled its way through airports, trains, buses, boats, and planes. Five years of travel has taken its toll on my faithful little bag. There are places now where the seams are coming apart, and the handle comes out if you pull it up too far, and the wheels don't roll as smoothly as they once did. But it's still the perfect size for an overnight, a weekend trip, or an emergency bag for the plane with changes of clothes and toiletries in case my checked bag gets lost. The bright green duct tape "M" on the back makes it easy to identify, leaving no doubt as to its owner!

Beside my black and gray carry-on is my rolling backpack with the matching green "M" on the front of it. It's a newer addition to my suitcase collection. I inherited it a year ago from a friend in Wichita, Kansas, when I needed an extra little bag for a trip. It's since been all over my city in China, carting books and supplies to and from school, or lugging home fresh vegetables, eggs, meat, and fruit from the street market. I've used it for day trips to nearby cities - carrying it on my back with a map and a bottle of water at the beginning of the day and rolling it back to the train station with purchases I've acquired by the end of the day.

But I haven't needed my rolling backpack recently. Now when I go shopping I drive the car to the supermarket and fill the trunk with plastic bags of neatly pre-packaged food products. I don't have to lug my groceries home on foot. And I don't travel much these days. My biggest trips now are to the bank or the post office. I haven't needed a carry-on for a plane trip in quite a while.

So my little suitcases sit forlornly at the back of my closet, behind the tennis shoes and sandals, still and empty. Silent reminders of places I've been, yet with the hope of adventures still to come. Someday I'll pull them out again, dust them off, and hit the road again. And they'll roll on to new destinations, bulging with clothes and snacks and books and possibilities. But until then, they're waiting - the suitcases in my closet.