Suitcases Up A Tree
Gerard Butler taught me a lesson last night
I had a dream.
I would not dare to compare my dream to Martin Luther King Jr.’s, but it spoke to me nonetheless.
There was no mountaintop or oppressed people. Instead, there was a modest house with a tree in the hallway and a partially absent ceiling. There was also an impending road trip, and a guy who may or may not have been Gerard Butler (rugged, yet approachable actor).
In my dream, Gerard’s fame was not a factor and we were all just everyday people. I had been staying at a house somewhere in the northeast, a few hours’ drive from home (or wherever we were headed next). It was a grey day and muddy from an earlier, heavy rain. My two dear friends from the Netherlands, Brigida and Greta*, accompanied me here, and there were other people staying in the house, too. Some of the people lived in the house and some were short-term, repeat guests. Those people were kind of fuzzy (figuratively – being a dream), with the exception of a guy who may or may not have been Gerard Butler, and the vague form of a couple of his friends.
We were at the end of our stay and I was packing up our leftover food items to take on the road. I had my suitcase packed. It was upright and ready in my bedroom. Some happening or other got me upstairs into the hallway near the bedrooms, and I saw that I had been pranked. Gerard (and his friends perhaps) had placed my suitcase high up in a tree (yes, inside the house of course) where the wall of the next bedroom and hall ceiling had been just moments before (dreams are like that, as you know).
The suitcase was too high for me to reach, even if I stood on a chair. It was a miracle of physics, really, the way it was suspended on its side, at an angle, supported by bare tree branches. People were laughing, but they would not help. Instead, they went about their business, with the exception of a young man, perhaps 12 or 13 years old, who was shorter than I. I thanked him and explained that a ladder and/or someone taller was needed. I went searching for through the house and out onto the street in front for either. No luck.
After a short time, I came upon one of my traveling companions, Brigida. She and our other friend, Greta, were ready to go. All we needed now was to finish the food packing and to retrieve my suitcase from the tree. Brigida was taller than I and perhaps if she stood on a chair, she would be able to reach it.
Not only did that not work, but somehow in all the looking for ladders and tall people, Brigida and I discovered that my suitcase had been moved. As a continuation of the joke, the suitcase had been surreptitiously shuttled to a new, mystery location. Brigida and I started looking everywhere.
I was feeling the pressure now; our calm preparations and the day, that had been blissfully, uneventfully on-track, were up-ended. The longer I spent trying to find the suitcase, the more annoyed I became. The story of the inconvenience for the sake of someone else’s laugh took shape in my mind, and my indignation grew. Our trip was getting delayed, a lot of unnecessary stress on us, all so Gerard Butler could have the satisfaction of a well-executed prank. What an inconsiderate jerk.
And by the way, he’d left. Oh yes. It seemed Gerard Butler had pulled his masterstroke move and made for the hills, so to speak.
I knew deep down, there was another way to experience this, and that my rising anger also carried a deeper signal. This situation was touching a nerve, one that flared when Brigida laughed because she too, could see the humor in it.
Even though she was being affected too, Brigida appreciated Gerard’s finesse in managing the heist. I wasn’t quite ready to get past my anger, though. In a moment alone, I asked myself the question I knew Brigida would ask me: “What am I so angry about, really?” At first there were all the rational answers: all of the undue stress we were under to find it and get on the road, and the repercussions of being late, the suitcase would now need to be cleaned, which would delay us even further, etc., Simply put, I was mad he messed with our day. I asked myself, “What did that mean to me?” I realized that the story I had formed in my mind during my suitcase search was a story in which I was running on-time, I was easy and responsible; I was certainly not a burden or inconvenience to my friends. In that story, I had my act together. I could even feel perfect, in a way, for a moment. And even though all the choices I’d made that morning led to my being ready and on-time, thanks to him, I was still going to scramble around like a hot mess, just to get out the door, and I’d make us all late at that. It felt so unfair: my day took a chaotic turn, and not from my own doing.
I stewed on that for a bit. It occurred to me that Gerard Butler didn’t take my suitcase from me, so much as he took away an illusion I was selling to myself as part of my own self-image. My closet belief: If things go as planned, it’s validation of how I want to see myself: I have my act together. The trouble with believing that, though, is when the opposite happens, I am resentful and angry, because then I believe it confirms the opposite.
So I guess there were oppressed people in my story after all: me. And, by me, I’m also including everyone else who spends time and energy (usually unconsciously) on illusions that confirm what we want to believe about ourselves. Yes, I’m talking about those of us who get really annoyed when the Gerard Butlers of the world seem to mess with our mojo.
Brigida and I continued to search for the suitcase separately and then met in a bedroom with newly carpeted stairs from the ceiling leading to the finished attic. The stairs had already been let down, so we climbed them and looked in every crevice of the large suite. Nothing.
Then Brigida looked out the window overlooking the back yard. She said, “Could that be your suitcase?” I came to the window and followed her eyes to a spot beyond the property. No… or could it?? A suitcase was lying facedown in the mud on the other side of an old chain-link fence, topped with a sideways tricycle like the cherry on a mud-suitcase sundae.
At first, I dismissed the possibility. But then I looked closer. Those handles were familiar…
While I was pissed at Gerard, I did also pause to appreciate his creativity and to reason that his prank was not ill intentioned. Pranks were just how he and his buddies showed each other they were an accepted part of the tribe. The way George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg do. So I’ve heard.
The dream faded and I awoke with it still speaking to me. What did it say? “Wake up.” I was looking for a picture of a ready suitcase to prove I was the person I wanted to be. But looking for the truth about myself in circumstances of a given moment, makes my self-image based on an illusion. The moment other factors enter the circumstances and change the picture I see, my illusion becomes confirmation of the very thing I hope I’m not.
Expending effort to create an external picture of who we want to see when we look inside ourselves is still just a picture. And thanks to Gerard, his friends, and Brigida, I recognized one of the pictures I had created that has been holding me captive. Whether my suitcase is resting neatly in the hall, up a tree, or face-planted in a pile of mud, it doesn’t change who I am, or label my life. That’s up to me.
*Names changed for privacy