In Jo's Blog

Woman photographed from behind, carrying many shopping bags, one of which has a mannequin's head poking out

I spent the last three weeks living out of bags. I took this photo on the 2nd day of my trip because it amused me and because I was traveling very light that particular day and feeling just a bit smug.

But by the end of the trip, when I had slept in 14 different beds in 21 days, dragging all my luggage everywhere because I never knew what I might need, yet managing to lose socks, phone charger, wallet, keys and teabags along the way, I looked at the photo a little differently.

Particularly that head sticking out, with its closed supplicating eyes and open mouth.

Traveling the way I do is a recipe for disaster. I want to see everyone I love, whether there is time enough or not. I careen madly from one place to the next, trying desperately to erase the miles, to catch up, to make amends for the decades I have lived in another country, to apologize for the life I have chosen. “I’ll stay longer next time,” I say as I leave my father, my children, my sisters, my brothers, my friends. “I’m sorry.”

(“You McGowans are the sorriest people I know.” Uncle Clem used to tell us – all seven of us.)

I drag my baggage with me, actual and metaphorical, and I dart in and out of these lives my life intersects with and I feel guilty and burdened and inadequate and like I can never, never, ever do enough.

I used to think this was a Catholic thing, something I inherited at Baptism and nourished in my early, formative years through examination of conscience, confession and repeated and endless absolutions; I thought this subliminal sorrow at my own inadequacies and limits was Catholic to the core.

And it is. Yet it is also Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Atheist. It is part of the human condition and I don’t know any more where it originates. I don’t think my mother taught me to feel like this, anymore than this radiant girl in red is being taught by her mother to feel that she is not quite up to the task (whatever it might be).

Mother (shot from behind) talks to little girl in red, standing on a wall, facing camera

It just seems to come with the territory of being human.

Which is why we have to consciously and constantly seek out the poets and the writers and the musicians and the artists who remind us of our silver boots and our good bodies; of our old friends and the dogs who are guiding us.

Thank you my life long afternoon
late in this spring that has no age
my window above the river
for the woman you led me to
when it was time at last the words
coming to me out of mid-air
that carried me through the clear day
and come even now to find me
for old friends and echoes of them
those mistakes only I could make
homesickness that guides the plovers
from somewhere they had loved before
they knew they loved it to somewhere
they had loved before they saw it
thank you good body hand and eye
and the places and moments known
only to me revisiting
once more complete just as they are
and the morning stars I have seen
and the dogs who are guiding me.

~ William S Merwin

The dogs who are guiding us. St Bernard. St Dominic and the Dog of the Lord. That’s a whole world to dive into. I’m going there. Bags and all.

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