The Psychological Stages Of Packing

Tomorrow morning we leave on our annual Thanksgiving trek to beautiful Black Mountain, North Carolina.  This trip is a family favorite for a thousand reasons.  So what’s the problem?


In an attempt to come to grips with this mountain, I have categorized the process into definitive stages.

Stage One:  Sky’s The Limit!  Two weeks from departure.  Sample thoughts:  “I will bring a pan of bread pudding with rum sauce, and gifts for Bertha and Anna.  I will have my nails done and will buy a new shirt.”  None of these things happen.

Stage Two:  Procrastination.  The week before departure.  Sample thoughts:  “I will think about list-making and packing after the church supper is behind me and school is out.”  I don’t.

Stage Three:  Fool’s Paradise.  Morning, one day before departure.  Sample thoughts:  “I’ll do it all tonight.  I have plenty of time.”

Stage Four:  Guilt.  Afternoon, one day before departure.  The luxurious feeling of plenty of time is gone, but things aren’t desperate yet.  Sample thoughts:  “I’ll at least get the laundry done.  That’s progress, isn’t it?”  Also on my mind is the wide variety of events this trip includes, from hiking, to a formal lunch on Thanksgiving Day, to Sunday church.  Mud clothes and dress clothes for all of us.  And the question of ironing?  Do it here?  Or the rigamarole of doing it there?  This leads to the next stage.

Stage Five:  Denial.  6:00 p.m. the evening before departure.  The ironing question breaks me, and I hit denial.  Sample thoughts:  “Isn’t tonight vacation, too?  Why can’t I just watch a movie?”  Even in denial I can’t justify a movie, but I do convince myself that now is the time to dig out the gold votive candles that flicker so enchantingly.  And I spend a good hour rearranging the table centerpiece because even though we won’t be here it’s important to make one’s personal space beautiful and affirming.  And so on.

Stage Six:  Rejection.  7:00 p.m.  Sample thoughts:  “I can’t do it.”  This is a low moment.  The mountain is simply too big.

Stage Seven:  Defeat.  8:00 p.m.  Sample thoughts:  “Could I possibly get it all done tomorrow morning before Andrew’s 7:00 a.m. goal?”  The suitcase on the bed, wide open and empty, says, “You’re kidding, right?”  So I pop a bowl of popcorn and think of Andrew’s Aunt Stella who, on the eve of a major trip, went into the front room, stretched out on the couch, and read a biography of Eudora Welty.  Impeccable decision.

Stage Eight:  Despair.  9:00 p.m.  By now the odds and ends have risen to the surface and a very random load of laundry needs to be done consisting of one white t-shirt and two pairs of very dark jeans.  Clearly they must be washed separately, so I will be up ‘til midnight doing two more one-item loads.  But that’s OK because I still have two stages to work through.  Also, the bizarre laundry shows me the certainty of a bizarre combination of clothes that will end up in the suitcase resulting in me standing in North Carolina dumbfounded at what I have brought with me.
Every room that I walk through reveals items that it is important not to forget – the medicine cabinet in the kitchen, the ipod and charger junk, the front hall coat closet, the laundry room.  Hundreds of critical little items.  A deep thought of the impracticality of travel begins to form, but I don’t have it in me to explore it right now. I only know the impossibility of knowing ahead of time what I will need and the certainty of getting it wrong.  This is an important step; naming the problem usually is.

Stage Nine:  Resignation.  10:00 p.m.  Here I begin to grow philosophical and rationalize that, like childbirth, I have no choice.  Morning will come and the car will pull out of the driveway and I will be in it.  I try to go warm and fuzzy and convince myself that packing doesn’t matter, and this is about family and togetherness and blessing.  About 27% of me is convinced.

Stage Ten:  Clarity.  11:00 p.m.  Not much is finished, but tomorrow we are going to one of the most beautiful places on earth.  So who cares what is in my suitcase!  Happy Thanksgiving.


A Clear And Reasonable Report

A Facebook friend recently posted about reading the amusing, ‘doctor-ese’ comments one of her physicians wrote to another.  It brought to mind a cryptic, legalese-filled test result I once received that left me uncertain as to whether I should feel relieved or worried.

The letter began by reporting that I did not “appear” to have any concerning spots.  Having watched far too many courtroom dramas, I had an instant image of the trim, suited young defense lawyer objecting, “Your Honor, the letter CLEARLY states that my clients only said the plaintiff did not APPEAR to have cancer.  At no point did they say she did NOT have cancer. If she drew that conclusion on her own, that is certainly not my CLIENTS’ responsibility.”  My conclusion:  So I probably don’t, but I possibly could.  Well, I already knew that; it describes everyone on the planet.

Sustained.  Continue.

Further, the letter pointed out grave factors including dense tissue and hard-to-detect types of cancer that made it impossible to report anything with certainty. The incredulous lawyer is back on his feet protesting, “Will it PLEASE the Court to witness that my clients, pursuant to paragraph 3, stated UNEQUIVOCALLY the CIRCUMSTANCES that render a diagnosis IMPOSSIBLE, to wit – tissues and types.”   My conclusion:  To quote the thwarted Pharisees of Mark 11:33, “We do not know.”

Sustained.  The Plaintiff was duly informed.  Continue.

Finally, the letter stated oft and bold that these findings were “as reported to us.”  Vague third and fourth parties, the radiographer and radiologist, I presume, were the responsible diagnosticians here, not the mere mouthpiece letter-writers.  Again, the strident young lawyer:  “Your Honor, my clients made it crystal clear that they were conveyors in good faith of and ONLY of information supplied to them by an ENTIRELY SEPARATE entity. My clients did not administer the test.  They did not read the results.  They merely reported VERBATIM.”  At this point he would place an earnest hand over his heart, inviting us all to bless the hearts of the beleaguered letter-writers, so maligned, so misunderstood.  My conclusion:  The letter-writers employed the age-old tactic of deflecting attention left and right and hoping no one notices you. We’ve all done it – when chores are being handed out or volunteers are sought.  Sometimes there’s a convenient lamp to hide behind.

Sustained again.  Counselor, closing argument?

“Yes, Your Honor, what my client said in the letter was, in essence, and only a fool would misunderstand, ‘You do not have cancer, but for the record, we are not saying you don’t have cancer.  Actually, we don’t know if you do or not, but if you do we weren’t the ones who missed it.  We weren’t even there!’  A clearer, more reasonable report could not have been written.”

The defense rests.


~ Life in a small town compels me to clarify that the letter-writers mentioned above are not my current health care providers who are wonderful.