I hate packing. You never really know what to take, which bag to use, and how to stuff it all in. And you never get it right.
There is, however, one thing worse than packing -- packing to go home. Ugh.
And so, there I was engaging in my annual grim chore of 'closing up' the summer bungalow and packing to go home.
It's such a familiar scene. Valises and garbage bags strewn all over the cabin, the usual confusion between laundry just washed and laundry not yet washed, six or seven very lonely, widowed socks, and the occasional whine and whimper, "I just can't believe it's over!"
This year was no different -- except for one observation. I was tossing some shirts into my bag when I realized just how many of them I had actually never worn the entire summer. I remembered when I had brought them thinking how essential they would be.
"Can't leave this one home."
"Oh, this one is perfect for paddle ball in the scorching sun."
"I'll wear it to the pool."
As it turns out, I wore something else to the pool... and to the paddle ball court.
Next to my bag lay a small open box with a few books awaiting transport. I gingerly squeezed in a few more hardcovers and paused. Most of them would be returning as they arrived, untouched and undisturbed.
And then there's the ultimate experience of over-preparation -- the plane ride.
"It's a four hour flight? Finally, I'll get some work done. Folders, files, laptop, correspondence, editing, review, old statements, home renovation plans etc. That's good for the first hour. Then there's that fat, old novel that's been sleeping comfortably under my bed for six years, and oh -- my ethical will -- perfect time to sink my teeth into that. And with the time remaining I'll study the weekly Torah portion and recite a few dozen Psalms."
Need I reveal the truth of what I actually accomplish on that trip? I'm lucky if I return home not leaving the novel on the plane. But we are creatures of habit. I know the routine all too well, and I'll probably continue to plan... and to fail.
Which brings us to the trip we call life. The more serious among us utilize the final days and weeks of the year to pack our belongings for the journey into the New Year. What shall we take along and what shall we leave behind? Which actions, relationships, and thought processes are honestly essential to our growth and which habits are just getting in the way?
Why are we still lugging around the same burdens and empty resolutions?
Some of us never 'find the time' to take this inventory -- how tragic. But those who do are often the creatures of habit. This year's list looks oddly familiar to last year's... and the year's before. Indeed, at year's end, when we unpack our suitcase, we find that so many of the contents have remained untouched. They are stale, dusty, and sadly, quite familiar.
We stare down at our luggage and shake our heads. We become despondent, frustrated, and downcast. What happened to all of our good intentions from last year? Why are we still lugging around the same burdens and empty resolutions?
The problem is that we don't know how to pack. Instead of just transferring our entire wardrobes from closet to suitcase, we need to carefully select just a few essentials that will realistically be utilized. When we plan to change everything, we often change nothing. In other words, if the luggage is overweight, a penalty is assessed. Everything needs to fit into your 'carry on.'
The Sukkot Solution
But God, of course, understands. He knows how we're wired. (After all, He wired us.) So He provides a solution. It's called Sukkot. The High Holy Days' Express has hardly come to a full stop when the Sukkot journey begins. He didn't have to make it that way. He could have waited a few weeks and then given us Sukkot. But no, He wanted to give us a chance to act on our resolutions immediately.
As most of us know, Sukkot is the time of year when we leave our sturdy, secure homes and transfer our dwelling to a structure that is insubstantial and frail. Many of us leave 6 or 7 room apartments or homes to spend significant time in huts that are no larger than 8' by 10'. We cast our ever-present need for protection to the heavens and demonstrate our belief in God by placing our bodies and souls in His purview and domain.
But no matter how physically elaborate our actual sukkah may be, there are obvious limitations on what we can bring along. We endeavor to create an atmosphere that is radiant and cozy -- but most of our comforts must be left behind. So we must choose carefully, weighing our decisions and defining what is truly indispensable.
When we bring too much, most of the stuff never really gets used. And when we try to change too much, it just doesn't work.
We need to separate out the myriad gadgets that distract us and strip life down to the essentials.
It is an exercise that is designed to help us prioritize.
"Do we really need that stemware in the sukkah?"
"Will one sweater suffice? Which one?"
"Which chairs are best suited for a meal of two hours?"
Sukkot teaches us that unlike the American Express card, we must leave home without it. When we bring too much, most of the stuff never really gets used. And when we try to change too much, it just doesn't work. It is a recipe for disappointment and frustration.
Most prudent is to choose wisely and realistically. Plan to complete one task, or perhaps, two and then feel really good about it. That great feeling of accomplishment gives us the fuel for future and greater journeys.
That is the beauty of Sukkot. We move out, but we don't take everything along.
Then we can sit in our smaller but simpler Sukkot, peer out between the delicate bamboos, see the vast heavens and bask in His love -- endless and supreme. We do so with the prayer that this year will be different. That we will truly tap into our potential.
Sukkot is coming. Just in time.