The baggage area was packed with people waiting impatiently for their luggage after a long transatlantic trip to France. Families starting their holidays collided with business people intent on getting settled before that big meeting in Paris, and in the midst of that entire fray, I stood as cheerfully as one can be after having been packed into a tin can with wings for nine hours. “What’s not to love about flying?” I thought. It signals one of two things: either you are on your way to the next chapter of your life, or you are on your way home to the new one you’re trip has made possible for you. In a way, flying represents the real-life action of turning the page in the book you are writing with your life.
I was on my way to a week-long program on Astronomica, the Seventh Liberal Art, hosted by Ubiquity University in Chartres, France. I had learned that students in classical antiquity were trained in the Seven Liberal Arts—Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy, with Astronomy being considered the greatest of them all. Ubiquity University gathers in Chartres, France, for one week every summer to dive into one of these subjects per year, and hosts experts in each area who share generously of their knowledge in their field. I was excited about being part of this training, and as I stood in Charles de Gaulle airport that day, I felt the familiar hum of waiting for the unexpected to unfold in my life.
I didn’t have long to wait.
As I stood in eager anticipation of the week that was to evolve in front of me, I watched every single person who had been on my flight wrestle their suitcases off the conveyor belt and trot through the Exit door of the baggage lounge. Big black monstrosities tied with pink ribbons had followed mid-sized floral-patterned suitcases with broken handles. Boxes taped up to within an inch of their lives disappeared onto carts, and parents dragging car seats, diaper bags, and sleepy children lumbered away to find a cab.
Eventually, every suitcase had been claimed and I stood in the empty room in wonder. The airline couldn’t possibly have lost my suitcase. That just doesn’t happen to me! I went to find a baggage official and the queries began. I was about to start a week in France. My makeup, hairdryer, and skincare products were in that suitcase. My toothbrush, contact lens equipment and reading material were in there, along with clean clothing suitable for a professional environment and extra business cards. It was inconceivable that none of those things had arrived in France with me.
But they hadn’t.
I headed off to Chartres with my purse, my passport and the hope that the suitcase would soon be located.
As the hours wore on, and the airline admitted they had no idea where my suitcase had gone, it became apparent that I had to figure out how to get along with literally just the clothes on my back. A toothbrush and toothpaste were purchased in short order and, ultimately, I found my way to a few new items of clothing. I came to realize how anchored into my things I’ve become. I wear makeup every day, for example, and I have a headful of wayward hair that has required me to develop a number of rituals, and purchase a number of products, that allow me to tame and control it.
Being stranded in a foreign country without the comforts of my daily life was a lesson in patience and demanded that I let the Universe take its course. In the end I managed just fine without the hundred or so items I had thought I couldn’t live without for a week. I came to recognize how much of my stuff is about masking the core of who I truly am. I don’t need eye shadow in order to learn about Jupiter and I don’t need pretty shoes in order to walk the Labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral. Those things are nice to have, but they aren’t essential.
I returned home after a magnificent week of meeting new people and learning with a greater understanding of how little I actually need in this world. And when my suitcase arrived on my front porch two days after I got home, I appreciated how much the turning of that particular page had brought me to caring less about my stuff and more about my trajectory in life. There was liberation in that. And a whole lot of peace, proof yet again that sometimes the things that seem to be disastrous are actually evidence that the Universe has our backs.