Paperwork: OK, everyone has baggage, but why does it get so heavy?

We all have baggage.

We carry it with us wherever we go – every day.

But let’s call it luggage, for the stuff we need to carry on our journey ... our personal voyage through life.

Luggage feels more essential, less negative. Baggage sounds like something you’d drag, like a burden. Luggage is packed and carried forward.

But let’s be clear. What gets packed into our bag is both positive and negative. Joys, hopes and dreams, and also plenty of sorrow and suffering.

A mixed bag, as they say. In fact, let me add to the definition of “bag” that was a frequent reference in the 1960s.

Something like, “Hey man, what’s your bag?”

Generally that meant, “Hey, what are you up to? What’s your thing? What’s your deal?”

But let’s go deeper and ask, “Hey man, what’s in your bag?”

What do you carry inside you, every day?

And ... how does all that stuff get in there? That becomes an important question as we travel through time.

I’ve been chewing on this baggage-luggage metaphor about life all week, after a birthday lunch.

A small circle of family gathered to surprise my aunt who turned 90.

We laughed. Hugged. Had fun. A lot of history sat around the table, glowing from those who were there — and the many who are now gone.

Later, it hit me that as we get older that bag we carry gets much heavier. Because it’s full of sorrow and loss. The kind you keep and pull out now and then. Because we never let go of our family and close friends.

This is a heavy weight, but not a burden to be unpacked. It’s the story of life and how it’s written. We carry it to the end.

When we are growing up it’s our parents and family who pack our bags. They try to put in education, pride, respect, the importance of family and so much more.

As we get older we toss in lessons learned, plans for our future, more pride and probably some shame, and hope over failure.

Then we do what our parents did. We pack a lot of advice and rules and love for our kids (or relatives and friends). There’s also a lot of worry – and hope – for them. But that stays packed in our bag.

As I said, how our bags get packed over time and who does the packing is important.

I think it’s wise to open your bag now and then. Take a close look at what you constantly tote around. Maybe start tossing out what does not belong.

Many experts will give you advice on how to do that. But I’d start with guilt or shame. And anger. Especially anger.

Perhaps it’s time to forgive yourself for some of the things you wished you had never done.

Find the stuff that was not packed by you. Why is it there?

And do you need the anger? Really? It stains everything you carry. Let it go. Lighten the load.

Turn your baggage into luggage. Pack for the journey that remains.

Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. His Paperwork email is Or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.