Lessons From Big Red

by Ellie Dias

""It’s an ominous sight. It’s red, incredibly red, and huge. It’s packed to the hilt and looks as if it’s going to explode on contact. For the first time, I see it fully packed. It seems bigger and heavier the closer I get. It appears as if I could fit inside with ease, if it were empty, which it’s not. Suddenly an inner voice speaks to me. It’s way too heavy, Ellie. You’d better take some stuff out. Meet the Big Red Suitcase, hereafter fondly referred to as Big Red.

I reach down to open the red monstrosity, unsure of what I can jettison. Before my hand even touches the zipper another voice asks me, Ellie, how can you travel without all your must-haves, the safety items, color-coordinated outfits, rolls of toilet paper, bags of candy and trail mix, all so crucial for your trip of a lifetime?

My husband, Ron, calls. “Come on Ellie, we’d better get started if you don’t want to miss your flight.” I groan as I wrestle it upright again and pull it out of the bedroom for its first meeting with Ron.

“I know it’s a little hefty.” I say.

“A little?” he replies.

“Yes, but I need everything in that suitcase; besides it’ll all make me feel at home.”

Ron looks at me. “For the jungle?” he asks.

For this, I have no answer. I offer to help. As we heave it into the hatch he says, “Really, Ellie, this thing is unmanageable.”

With Big Red hunkered down in the back, we head to Boston’s Logan Airport, where I will depart for JFK in New York, where my long-planned travels to the fabled Three Kingdoms of the Himalayas will begin.

We arrive at the airport where the big guy at the check-in counter moans when he lifts Big Red on the scale. “Miss, your suitcase weighs in at 95 pounds, way over the domestic weight limit. Would you like to remove something? If not, it will cost you one hundred dollars.”

I consider for a moment taking out the three cans of mosquito spray along with the half-gallon jug of Permethrin to protect me from dengue fever, or the ten bags of trail mix, power bars, crackers, and cheese. Should I risk getting dengue fever or pay the hundred bucks? No choice there. I pay the hundred-dollar excess baggage fee believing it’s a small price to pay to stay true to my conviction that I need absolutely everything in Big Red.

It never dawns on me that my packing does not jibe with the fact that I am about to spend almost a month exploring a part of the world that warrants only t-shirts and jeans. Nor do I ever stop to think that I must pull, push, and somehow lift this mammoth beast, by myself, through twenty-two airports. Only when it is too late, will I realize the one thing I needed most – and should have packed before anything else – is common sense.

""Ellie Dias is a devotee of Buddhist philosophy. Her career has focused on health and wellness as a biology professor, pediatric nurse, clinician working with families whose babies were at risk for SIDS, and division VP of a women’s health care company. She lives with her husband Ron in Massachusetts. This essay is an excerpt from her book BIG RED: HOW I LEARNED SIMPLICITY FROM A SUITCASE (Buddhapuss Ink LLC, 2017).

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