Dealing with lost luggage is an art. I don’t mean from the airline or baggage handler’s perspective. I mean from the point of view of the passenger. In fact, I have one particular passenger in mind.
It was a day of delays, first on the tarmac at LaGuardia and then approaching Houston, which was besieged by thunderstorms. We spent an extra hour and a half in the air trying to land from the west. The good news, the pilot informed us without the slightest hint of irony, was that we would not run out of fuel.
I found that encouraging.
Don’t get me wrong. I realize how spoiled I am. These are first world, twenty-first century problems that people in other lands can only shake their heads at. And, if you transported someone here from the mid-nineteenth century, they would marvel at a transcontinental trip in which no one died and took less than a year.
Still, when an airline loses your luggage, it’s not merely an inconvenience, which is what the people in the Ministry of Baggage Resolution keep apologizing for. That isn’t their actual name, but you get the idea.
This is especially true in my case, since I hardly ever check luggage. I travel light and often have the things I need waiting for me at the other end. What is not waiting for me I buy. I still have shaving cream from Italy and deodorant from Brazil.
This time, however, I decided to check a suitcase. It contained two sports coats, shirts, trousers, dress shoes, “coupon” books that my daughters made for me in grammar school, letters, and a Minnie Mouse doll for a granddaughter who has grown fond of the rodent couple. I also packed a friend’s parking ticket that I promised to pay. The trousers were recently altered by a seamstress from an Italian parish in the Bronx.
You see my dilemma. Nearly all of these things are dear to my heart. So, the question becomes how to let go. Again, this isn’t on the level of disease, fire, or death, so it ought to be easy enough to accept the inevitable. After all, what if the pilot had announced, “Sorry, folks, but we don’t have enough fuel”? Now, that would be something worth writing about.
If done in the right way, dealing with lost luggage balances hope with fatalism even as it rattles our sense of complacency and patience. It also makes us realize–or should–that the real miracle is not the prospect of getting our luggage back but that we spent time looking down upon the Earth from above the clouds in the first place. If we realized that, we would no doubt run up and down the aisle in awe like the little boy I once saw who couldn’t contain himself.
We ought not to contain ourselves, yet we do. We even complain when the flight attendant runs out of cookies, which I have also witnessed. And we complain about lost luggage even though my prayers at the time focused on landing safely. If given the choice between landing safely and getting my suitcase back, there’s no need for discussion, even a philosophical one.
I count dealing with lost luggage as an art because it takes the raw experience and reworks it into something that lifts us above the experience just as the plane lifts us above the clouds. It helps us deal with other losses in life, of which there are many. It’s like suffering that way. Or beauty.
You might be thinking this is much ado about nothing, but it’s important enough for the airline to send me an email every twelve hours updating me with the progress of the baggage search. So, far, it’s been three days. They’ll have to reimburse me if they don’t find the suitcase soon.
I’ve started imagining how nice life would be with the extra cash. After all, I could always buy another Minnie Mouse doll.
I’ll just apologize to my granddaughter for the inconvenience.