What We Keep, or…Don’t Pack the Surge Protector!

The Bali Advertiser is a popular newspaper for the thousands of ex-pats living on the island. This month they pubished a feature article I wrote with the same title as this post. Click on Bali Advertiser and it will take you to their website. Then click on the issue that appears in the center of your screen and page through until you come to the article covering page 57.  Or, better yet, you can read it right here…


When stakes are pulled up and a new life is launched, what comes along? There’s always baggage, tangible and intangible, but I’m talking prized possessions. What carries the emotional weight to be considered worthy of a spot in one’s new existence? Wedding china and crystal?  The mahogany dining table that seats twelve…comfortably?

Our stuff tells a story. But the belongings that are carried with us into a new start, a life transition, hold volumes of information. The energy contained in each accompanying treasure comes heavy with memories. Those that promote the path chosen over the one left behind, are valuable affirmations of who we are and what we want. But sometimes the things hauled along are symptoms of a lack of trust, an inability to let go.

I am reminded of the story of a man sitting by the side of the road. A traveler came by and asked him, “What are the people like in that village up ahead? I’m thinking of living there.” The man looked up at the traveler and said, “What were the people like in the place you left?”  “They were wonderful,” the traveler replied, “Helpful and friendly.” The man smiled, “You’ll find the people here are pretty much the same.” The traveler went on his way. Soon another traveler came by and asked the man, “What are the people like in that village up ahead? I’m thinking of living there.” Again the man said, “What were the people like in the place you left?” The traveler scowled, “They were back-stabbing, busy-bodies. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.” The man nodded, “You’ll find the people here are pretty much the same.”

Wherever we go, there we are. There’s no escaping ourselves. P1030207But I’m fascinated by the things we keep, sometimes boxed up, collecting dust in a dark closet, sometimes in a climate controlled vault, untouched, seen only by the attendant during a routine check. Even I, minimalist that I’ve become, brought some things with me when I fled the sub-zero misery of the American Midwest. Some are supportive of my journey. The small, brass temple bell from Unmunsa, a Buddhist Monastery in the mountains of South Korea, speaks to me. Its clear voice is a call to meditation, the joyful reminder of a moment on the pathway toward awakening. The worn patina hints at something more permanent than my life.

Frame DrumOn the other hand, the elk skin on the frame drum from a shop in Seattle turned immediately flaccid as it drank from the drenched Bali air. Its rich percussive vibrations are a distant dream. But all is not lost. I keep it for its decorative value. And it holds images of my youngest daughter, golden hair and shades, showing me the ‘gum wall’ and Fisherman’s Wharf, as we walked that city together one memorable day.

I found the antique French field binoculars in a consignment boutique and fell in love. They were of absolutely no use in my old life. But they called to me. It was as though I knew they would enhance my experience in an undreamed future. Here they zoom in on exotic birds, butterflies, or workers in distant rice fields. They bring closer the beauty and bounty of Bali that feeds my soul.

??????????But the most impressive come-along, taking up two-thirds of the space and weight allowance in my luggage, was the Texas Mean game. My parents were introduced to it in that state on a winter sojourn there. They returned with a pattern for the board. Over the years dad produced countless reproductions for friends and family in his workshop. Now, 90 years old, he still plays, and more often than not, wins this competitive game.

It posed a problem, however. The solid wood board was too large. No amount of angling it crosswise, or forcing it into the expansion area of the suitcase, would allow the zipper to close. I was bemoaning that fact to a friend. “Let me see it,” he said. A day later my board returned, sliced, hinged, and modified. It fit.

What is the energy carried with me in these possessions? It’s like Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, said, Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. Reflection reveals much. The bell speaks of mystery, travel, adventure. It holds visions of cherry blossoms, clouds of them, drifting onto the path like snow, and monks in gray robes, single file, entering the temple. It calls me inside, to the spiritual part of myself that is ever evolving. It is the essence of who I am and what I love.

The drum is my heart, symbolized. It is soft now and pliable with the freedom, hard won, to be exactly what it wants to be. All those years it did its duty, pounding out the cadence on command, holding steady the rhythm of life. Here, in Bali, my heart beats reggae. It aligns with the hammering of gamelan. It releases me to dance.

The binoculars are 1800’s vintage in mint condition. What sights have they seen? What stories do they hold in the lenses of their glass eyes? When I put them to my face and watch butterflies circling, circling, in their intricate mating dance, they are warm in my hand. They bring me close-up to view the intimacies of another world. It is a deeper way of looking, a poetic way of watching.

And Texas Mean? There are memories of hundreds of games over the years. There is the warmth of family sharing laughter and friendly competition. There is the random act of kindness by the dear one who saw a solution to the size problem and fixed it. Gratitude is too small a word.

But best of all, my Balinese friends love the game! The fact that there is an image of a fierce Native American dead center, and teepees in each corner, doesn’t faze them. To them, it’s “The Fighting Game” and believe me, they know how to strategize and work the odds. We have spent many nights whooping and hollering, like natives on the warpath, as one or another of us gains the advantage. It dissolves differences in culture, language, and custom. It reduces life to play, and we’re all equal in the game.

???????????????????????That’s about it, the laptop, the camera, those are essential to my work. But…oh yes, there is one other thing. It sits in the bottom of my otherwise empty suitcase in the dark, out of sight, out of mind, an embarrassment. It’s a giant surge protector with outlets for at least 8 electrical plugs. Paranoid about my new computer equipment, wanting to protect it, I stuffed the monster contraption with its thick, inflexible cord, into the luggage next to the Mean Game. It was the first thing I pulled out when I arrived in my new home. I found the correct adapter, plugged it in and attached the unit. There was an instant pop and a blinding flash that shut down the power in most of the banjar for several hours. Actually, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it scared the living daylights out of me!

It’s interesting as I ponder these things I brought from the old life. The ones that have love attached to them have grown even more precious. And I treasure them especially because they are few. But the unwieldy surge protector, packed out of fear and a mistrust of the unknown forces of power in my new place, backfired. I can’t even give it away. Nobody needs it here. It will just end up taking precious space and pounds out of my quota on some visa trip back to the States.

The unknown forces of power I should have feared are the ones that bring me face to face with myself. Bali is a playground for those energies and I am her playmate. Bewitched by the Siren call, I was lured from my complacent existence to her green embrace. The kindness she bestowed on me, with my strange white skin and pale eyes, left me with a fierce yearning to be with her, always.

So I divested myself of the accumulation of a lifetime, not bit by bit, but in one wild purge. It was a glorious release, mentally, physically, and emotionally. I let go of a life that no longer served me, if truth be told, had never served me. The few things I kept, the treasures that made it into my luggage, were gifts from me to me. They were promises made during difficult times that assured me of a different future. All, that is, except the surge protector. That was my stab at security, my insurance policy. In throwing caution to the winds and moving to the other side of the globe, that surge protector would ensure that my electronic connections to family and friends would be safe.

And Bali would have none of it. “You’re mine!” she thundered as sparks flew from the incompatible connection. “Yikes!” I shrieked back at her in shocked surprise. It was a lesson, harsh and immediate. She wasted no time allowing me to bask in any silly illusions I might have harbored. “Trust,” she said, her message as clear to me as if it were carved in stone.

My technological equipment thrives on Bali’s current, and so do I. She knew we would. And trust is no longer an issue. If I’m ever prone to doubt, a vision of a rogue surge protector, deep in the bowels of my luggage, comes to mind. I feel the sting of her reprimand afresh and doubt dissolves. We have an understanding, Bali and I, and as long as she has her way, all is well.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barb Garland
    Jul 16, 2013 @ 17:06:50

    more than lovely



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