January 20, 2012

Real baggage

By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *
Thanks to a hotly contested Republican primary populated with colorful personalities and the seemingly endless supply of Hollywood rehab repeat offenders, the word “baggage” has been getting a lot of play these days.

It is the go-to term used by journalists to suggest that an individual is hampered by an interesting past or ongoing psychological frailty without having to get into the sordid details. Stating that he or she has “a lot baggage” gets the dirty laundry out there, but keeps the particular facts discreetly in the basket.

Being neither a political pundit nor a psychologist, I am not much of an expert on baggage in this abstract sense. On the other hand, having hoisted, carted and carried literally tons of luggage through four major US airports while racking up nearly 3 million miles of air travel in 16 years, I can vouch that the term is fitting. Luggage is always bad and cumbersome.

When Christina and I first started on mission, we had two kids. This allowed us eight checked bags and four carry-ons. Not long into our tenure as missionaries, the addition of our other two children allowed us to move up to a dozen checked bags and six carry-ons. With weight limits still at 70lbs, we would end up at the airport with a mountain of luggage weighing a half a ton!

Did I mention that baggage is always bad?

In our defense, we were not porting Paris Hilton sized wardrobes. Some of the bags were filled with household items which were either too expensive or hard to get in Haiti; others were filled with donations for our neighbors. No space or weight was wasted. Everything was considered and re-considered.

In those early years, packing was a ritual. Getting everything into the luggage involved soma-cube level concentration and a highly accurate scale. It also required a certain level of unnatural discipline on my part for not just chucking things in the 11th hour—Christina and the kids had an uncanny ability to remember every item they brought to the packing table. Any deletions made out of frustration during packing would exact twice the pain upon unpacking.

Over the years, I learned that proper packing required keeping liquids separated from electronics and paper products. It was also important to keep soaps away from food. Any soap with a beautiful bouquet or even just Tide becomes a toxic chemical when packed next to spaghetti, crackers, etc.

Given our practical need to move mountains of supplies for either our own use or to distribute to our neighbors, you may assume that I am against the new baggage fees and increasing enforcement of carry-on dimension restrictions. Well, I am not and neither is my elbow. Even if my high-mileage status did not allow me to avoid most of the increases, I would be in favor. The market needed some discipline.

Some fees are appropriate. This is one of them. First and foremost, the fee is fair because it costs the airlines money to fly bags just like it does people. It is unfair to have all customers share equally in the cost of carrying the freight if they are not carrying the same amount of luggage. Light travelers should get a break. The fee puts everyone on equal ground: no bags, no fee.

Second, the fee incentivizes being environmentally conscious and living less encumbered lives—two things we need to encourage. It takes more fuel to fly baggage laden passengers. Handling the luggage also increases the wear-and-tear on the planes and terminals. Without this fee, it is unlikely that we would consider these factors when choosing to throw in the fourth pair of slacks, or the third pair of shoes, or to tote the clubs just in case. But, travelers do now.

Figuratively and practically, you can never have too little baggage.

Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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