Sunday, July 23, 2017

No Baggage Book Review, Hygge, & a Day at the Beach

I just finished reading No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love & Wandering by Clara Bensen, a travel memoir I eagerly devoured in three days. I found it when I did a library search on the topic of minimalism. Clara is a 25-year-old who met Jeff, an older university professor, through an online dating group. A magical connection ensued, and a month after their meeting, Clara joined Jeff for a 21-day, overseas tour beginning with Istanbul and finishing in London. The catch: no baggage, no reservations. Jeff carried everything in his pockets, and Clara brought a small purse. They wore the same clothing for the entire trip.

I was immediately intrigued upon learning that Clara came from a loving, evangelical Christian home and was homeschooled. Her uncommonly good writing skills and obvious intelligence and wit were encouraging. She seemed to have no misgivings about being homeschooled, and she had a close relationship with her parents. Yet through the experience of college life she lost her moral compass. Upon facing the harsh realities of the 2008 housing market crash following her graduation, she spiraled down a two-year rabbit hole of mental illness.

Her prose is laced with profanity and stories of sex outside of marriage. I could relate to much of her twenty-something experiences, having been negatively influenced by the college culture myself, then becoming very depressed after graduating in late 1991 during a major recession. I too had grown up in a Christian home and lost my way. It's a cautionary tale. It's also an inspiring one.

I spent the day at a state park beach with my family and a friend of Beezy's this past Friday. I finally felt myself sink into summer. The tension I'd been holding in the core of my being melted in the hot sun and floated away in the waves of the lake. I wore a blue, cotton gauze dress I found at Good Will that is so comfortable and pretty I could wear it every day, just like Clara wore the same green frock for three weeks straight. Traveling so light was almost anticlimactic, so easy it turned out to be. I would not want to repeat her "couch surfing" experience, not knowing where she and Jeff were going to sleep from night to night. But I could imagine just a carpet bag of my possessions and maybe a house swapping situation, where I could cook and have a home base. And then make day trips to other destinations, rather than sitting on buses and trains for 24 hours at a time and hitchhiking.

So back to the beach. I've also been reading a few library books about hygge, the Danish concept of a certain experience of quiet happiness and comfort. Hygge, pronounced hoo-ga, is about simple pleasures, companionship, hominess and coziness, a strong connection to nature, and a feeling of deep peace and well-being. It's one of those ideas that's foreign to us Americans and difficult to define. But when I was sitting there on the beach, completely being in the present moment, with no shred of anxiety or irritation, enjoying the company of the people I was with, and even the strangers, I got it. This is hygge. 

Having found my summer groove not until the 2nd half of July, I am seriously considering not starting our homeschooling back up until after Labor Day. I know, so radical! Such a risk! But it has only been in the past couple of decades that the beginning of school got pushed earlier and earlier, till the kids are now slumping to the bus stop with their back packs in the middle of August. I have an appointment with a pain specialist for a consultation about my lower back, hoping that an epidural steroid injection might enable me to sit for long periods in a car again. I have a dream of traveling with my family in a RV and spending copious amounts of time in woods and meadows and by lakes and streams. Lots of people "road school"! Why not leave town at the precise moment that everyone else goes back to the grind? Even if we don't embark on an epic journey, we can do the day-tripping thing from our own home base. And we can keep on lightening our load of possessions and worries.

In addition to my blue thrift store dress, I also picked up a plum purple, Old Navy tank top. Purple was not a color in the stores this year, and the top was an item I desperately needed. I was thrilled to find two pieces of clothing that I absolutely love, in excellent used condition, for a total of $10. This is how I want to dress myself always, only in those items that bring me joy to put on. It's difficult to find clothing that one would put in the "love" category, so it logically follows that one's wardrobe would have to be minimalist.

The moral of the story is that there is hope for the fallen Clara, who most likely by her mother's ardent prayers (and unbeknownst to herself) made her way back to the land of the living. She was brave enough to take a risk on love. Surely she took too many risks, but she trusted her intuition and was willing to experiment with a different way of being in the world. She had the courage to face her demons head on. There is hope for the fallen you and me as well. I heard an adage once that dissolved me in tears, and every so often it whispers in the forefront of my mind:

At the end of your life, these three things matter most--
How much did you love,
how well did you live your life,
and how deeply did you learn to let go...

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