What do you carry?

By Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan

As meditation, I sat down to write. I needed to clear my mind and heart, to declutter. To make room for more. So as prayer, I opened my bag and emptied it’s contents to list what I carry with me. I share my prayer below:

My bare feet, slipped out from flip-flops, rest on my gray bag. They feel its uneven bulkiness, and the sailcloth it is made out of as I store it underneath the seat in front of me. I look out the window as the plane departs Albuquerque, leaving my red earthen roads of Santa Fe behind.

It’s bulkiness contains my mail from 1107 Sangre de Cristo Street, our rented home in Santa Fe; a newsletter from the Minneapolis Zen Center, a place I wish to check out; a flyer for the home we may buy in St. Paul; a receipt for Integrative Holistic

On a hike with Henry, the littles and Peter

On a hike with Henry, the littles and Peter

Healing Center, where I faithfully went week after week to get my hair to grow back after I lost it post babies, to no avail; a letter of praise from Bob Gilsdorf about the Sisters’ Blog. Inside it houses two rubbery play watches for my older boys from their cousin’s birthday; a boys winter cap, pair of boys underwear, a pair of boys socks; bark ‘n boot liners for my dog, Henry, who after trail running post snow cut up his paws in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, bad enough to warrant a trip to the vet. An eyeglass case, trail mix, and a no longer usable cell phone that is now for play. My pocketbook filled with no-longer-needed receipts, my Minnesota driver’s license, my one credit card and one bank card, I don’t like having more than one, and grateful to be able to have one; my library cards and the boys, as well as my insurance card and the boys; vitamin e stick for my lips, and gloss for when I need some shimmer on. Keys to the car in Minnesota, the rental home in Minnesota and our rental in Santa Fe.

This bag is bulky and unruly and I feel it as I try and sling it over my shoulder this past trip. It feels weighted, a counterpoint as the plane departs for takeoff. It holds the weight of just-in-cases: just-in-case Finn or Liam have an accident, the extra underwear; or we need some socks to avoid blisters. Just-in-case I need a change of hat for a different occasion. It holds the just-in-case we need some energy with food, and some medical help with insurance cards, or knowledge with library cards. Or the biggest just-in-case we move.

I have not cleaned my bag out since the changing of winter to spring. It is now summer. I still carry the lotion my mom

Bell on a wall

Bell on a wall

bequeathed to Finn for his ever so chapped hands when she visited in February. I thought his extreme skin was from an onset of OCD and fear of germs, turned out the dryness of the desert had more to do with their redness, their scales, their roughness on such youth. As I dug in the crevice of my bag’s corners, where secrets might be kept, I unearth a small wooden block with a bell in it that Kieran clutched too when the snow began to melt and accidentally took with him to the Santa Fe Children’s Museum. For Buddhists a sound of a bell brings the wisdom of emptiness. My bag could use such wisdom.

Scattered throughout the bottom of the bag like seeds are the pieces to a small puzzle of an elephant given to Finn in his Easter basket, waiting to bloom. Two ziplock baggies, one filled with another vitamin e stick and a not needed hair holder; the other with two hand sanitizers and lollipops–remnants of past flights. A charger for my ear piece that no longer works, and a prize toy from St. Vincent when we went as a family to get a blood work panel done for Celiac testing. I carry these memories of place waiting to be ordered, sifted, sorted. The block needs to go back with the other blocks, the clothes need to find their drawers, and papers await to be recycled into something new. The bag recycled into something lighter, my mind into something emptier.

As I reflect on this list. What happens to those many families and people who do not have just-in-cases? How does what I carry prohibit me from being closer to those who suffer? Who need my friendship and I theirs? How does what I carry keep me from integrating the preferential option for the poor? How does what I carry give me hope? The wise St. Francis de Sales says, “It is not necessary always to feel strong. It is sufficient to have hope that we will be strong enough at the proper time and place.” And, so I look on myself and all I carry with compassionate hope.

What do you carry? What does it reveal about your life? Your patterns? Your desires? What do you need to let go of to make

A nest of baby wrens

A nest of baby wrens

room for what you need to receive? A bag is like a nest, it holds what connects us to life, to ourselves in a moment in time. Like the nest that cradled the baby wren’s, which was knocked down only to provide a valuable lesson on the sanctity of life.

Visitation Monastery North Minneapolis wrote on July 16 at 8:10 pm: Story-kids dumping wren house continues. 4 baby birds left to be rescued by nuns -unsuccessfully. MP responded on FB giving title, “The Dead Bird.” I got it and waited for the opportunity to get the children over to read. Happened tonight! 5 children came, ages 3-11. As I read, only a few guilty glances gave them away. They got the point, without having to lie or admit, just as I had hoped. God’s creatures matter

Sometimes a bag anchors us, providing a base from which to fly. Other times it needs to be emptied in order to be filled with life to travel the roads we need to go.

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Please click on the comments section below to read what the Sisters carry with them when they join the Monastery. We invite you to share your own meditation on the contents of your bag and what you carry in the comments section.

For further prayer, meditatively read Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, about his time as a soldier in Vietnam.

5 Responses

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  1. “I entered in the fall of 1959, after one year college. I had to buy and bring big black clunky shoes, black skirts and blouses, “tame” looking aprons, supplies for a year of my “toiletries” and I just don’t remember anything else. I was given some sort of a list and it was longer than what I said, but….gosh, I have not thought about that for so long, it’s gone!” -Sister Katherine

    “When I joined, I brought two pairs of slippers, a certain kind; two white blouses, jumpers, a Bible and two other books. I was 19 years old and was told to bring personal items for six months, until I became a novice (which usually takes on average 9 months). Now, we ask that you dress simply and bring some clothes for work, play, Church, and meetings. Just a few pairs of what you need. We do this together with people who are entering.” -Sister Karen

  2. It’s Friday – our appointed day to clean out the car so it is ready for the weekend, and also to clean out my purse. More often than not, we completely forget to do either one, and the purse and car can go several weeks without getitng straightened out.
    Reading the Sisters’ memories of what they brought with them, made me reflect on our routine of helping girls in the troop decide what to pack and wear for our camping trips and other outings. I thnk one of the most important parts about our time away from daily life is how we pare it all down to the essentials, to be warm, dry, protected and safe.
    It’s time to clean out my purse now 🙂

    Anne in Mpls

  3. Anne thank you for sharing your weekly ritual and intention. And your ability to pare it down to the essentials. So much about what life is about is getting to the basics so there is room for love an relationship and perspective. Love what you took the time to share! Thank you

  4. dear elizabeth, after being in camden new jersey this past week with two girls from mpls vis and 10 from mendota hts. convent of the visitation school the topic of what we carry with us is right on the surface of my conscious thought….ultimately the only ‘thing’ i couldn’t do without each day was my presecription eye drops….they gave me relief from the week-long 90 degree weather and blasting heat of a parking lot that was the syringe-free playground for the vacation bible camp we were organizing and facilitating for the children of north camden’s holy name parish. these drops gave me hope that my retina will be good as new in a few months…they also made me aware of how blessed i am to have health insurance and a great retina doctor and a world-class eye center right here in my hometown! i did bring a full suitcase and extra large purse for the other necessities of my trip but it was this little bottle (2.5 oz) of medication that i absolutely needed several times a day…that and my strong faith that God is with me even in the summer’s heat of camden and the syringe-littered alleyways we walk. — Sr. Suzanne

  5. Dear Sr Suzanne, Welcome home! How poignant that what you could whittle your bare necessity down to had to do with healing your vision. If only our vision could all be healed with eye drops! If only we could behold what is before us with joy and hope, what a world! May your eye continue to heal, your vision be clearer and all that you behold be blessed! I can not wait to hear more about Camden, NJ–sounds like relationships and perspectives were forged and created by all!
    Thank you for taking the time to share.
    Love,
    E

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