The haunting images of items packed by those who would spend the rest of their lives at the Willard State Hospital (Insane Asylum) reminded me of another suitcase story. When Jews were being rounded up by German soldiers and sent to concentration camps, they were instructed in many instances to take a single suitcase. Of course, their possessions most often ended up in heaps of other similar ones to be profited from after their deaths.
When I lived in Africa (the Congo), a period of political unrest occurred in which we slept for many weeks with a single small bag beside the bed. In mine, a purse really, I had a couple of pairs of underwear, a toothbrush, and my passport. I’m sure I packed a few other items, too, but it’s been so long ago I can’t remember. Of course, it was a long way to N’djili Airport, and the chances are we’d have made easy pickings for the ANC if they’d decided to use us for target practice!
The 400 suitcases currently being inventoried and photographed survived—though their owners did not. Found in an attic, neatly arranged on racks, they contain the stories of individual lives which, for all practical purposes, ended when the doors of Willard swung closed behind them. Yet they brought with them a nostalgic piece of their pasts. One can almost see the items going into the various cases with deliberate thought. “Will I need this?” “Can I use that?” “What will happen if I leave these behind?”
In the end, of course, everything was left behind.
So picture yourself going somewhere—and it doesn’t have to be an institution or a prison camp. You only know you won’t be returning any time soon—if ever. What will you take with you? It’s not as easy to decide as you might think.
Here’s my packing list:
· Birth certificate
· Driver’s license
· Wedding ring
· Favorite mug
· Hand lotion
· Small sewing kit
· Writing tablet and pen(s)
· Pictures of my grandchildren
· Immunization record
· Favorite earrings
· Small notebook
· Small brown teddy given to me by my grandfather when I was 3 or 4
There’s still room, and I’m sure in a moment of desperation or panic, I’d think of other things. But consolidating one’s life into a single suitcase just isn’t easy.
What would you put in your suitcase?