A Lesson on Enough-ness

This post was originally published as a guest post on my dear, talented friend Cait Flander’s site.

I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself crying by a trash can in the middle of the street, but that’s exactly where I found myself the other day. It was an odd and complicated moment, and I have much more to say on it. But — if you’ll bear with me for a moment — I’d actually like to start off by talking about something else first.

Something I’ll call “enough-ness.”

Now what exactly is “enough-ness”? It’s a little tricky, but I have a feeling you might already know.

When we buy things, we’re often trying to fill something up. We think “If only I owned this, it would be enough” or “Once I can afford this one thing, it will be enough.” It’s like we’re trying to fill some indeterminate volume of “enough-ness” in hopes that one day we’ll be filled to the brim with an inexhaustible supply of contentment and happiness.

It’s the very same concept we cast upon ourselves sometimes. “If I only lose a few more pounds, I’ll be enough” or “If I was only a bit funnier, I’d be enough.” We pick the highest peak in a mountain range to plant our flag of “enough,” and yet we never quite seem to summit.

But every so often, we get a glimpse into exactly how much enough-ness we have. In fact, it was this very recognition of enough-ness that had me sobbing into my hands next to a trash can, like I mentioned in the opening line of this post.

You see, two weeks ago, I was in the midst of throwing away something very near and important to me. It was a small red backpack, aged 20 years. It wasn’t that I wanted to get rid of it, or even that I was ready to move on to a new one. This backpack, sturdy as it had been over the years, had finally ripped beyond repair.

It made me excruciatingly sad. So sad it shook me to the core. “It’s just a backpack,” I thought. But no, I realized, it wasn’t “just” anything.

With this backpack on, I’d cried when I was lost. I’d packed it with too much and I’d packed it with too little. I’d felt it beat against my back with every step in every journey. This small backpack was the carrier of memories, tucked tenderly inside fabric. It was trials and tribulations, pain and lost-ness. (For those unfamiliar with lost-ness, it’s that feeling of wandering without direction, whether in happiness or sadness, frustration or glee). This backpack was more than zippers and cloth. It was enough.

The realization of this reminded me of one of my favorite books of mine as a kid: The Velveteen Rabbit. This section in particular:

“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” — Margery Williams

Rarely do we get the opportunity to say goodbye to something we love. Instead, we’re taken by surprise when something leaves or is taken from us. Whether that be a friend, a love, or a thing. If I’d left my backpack behind at a train station or it’d been snatched from me on the streets, it would’ve been different. Yet as I retired my pack, I understood exactly that I was choosing to lose.

As I stripped it down to its nakedness, took out all the gum-stained pens and old receipts I’d meant to take out so long ago, I removed each thing with such loving hands and delicate touches. It was like bathing a child. I understood just how real and beautiful it was.

A close friend asked me why I didn’t just keep the shell of it, as a treasured token. I stumbled to answer. Yes, I could have. I thought about it more than once. But saying my goodbye taught me a lesson so grand and precious I’m not sure I would have done anything differently. It taught me of “enough-ness.”

It’s OK to love a thing. It’s OK to let it go. It’s OK to be confused by it. It’s OK to change your mind and keep it close, to box it up and unveil it in 50 years. But whenever the time comes to make the decision, I hope — above all hopes — we have the steady beat of “we are enough, we are enough, we are real” echoing in our mind.