Emotional Baggage: A Packing Guide

I am going to Greece in six days. I’ll be there for a week and a half, working as a Carry the Future volunteer distributing baby carriers and infant/toddler supplies to refugees arriving by boat. I’ve compiled my packing list with military-like precision, which must be a laughable statement to anyone who knows me well. I will weigh my checked luggage down to the ounce, and if I’m lucky, I’ll have a few small cracks in my carry-on to fill with plush toys and lollipops.


What I don’t know is how the hell to pack for the emotional journey. Like many of my friends, I experience almost daily meltdowns after I watch video clips of starving children in Syria or families reunited in refugee camps. I’ve become accustomed to wiping away tears, taking a deep breath, and moving on. We Americans, we’re pros at compartmentalizing. Shit, we’re the creators of a place called the Container Store. But those are images on a screen, not flesh and bone people who have suffered and have only just begun their journey.

My desire to make this trip was born of a ridiculous-sounding goal: I wanted to hug some Syrian families. As my red state governor enthusiastically joined the “No Syrian ISIS Terrorists Can Resettle in MY State” B.S. train, I felt compelled to embody a human pendulum. I wanted to swing as far as possible from the hatred that surrounded me. “We’re not all like that,” I want to tell the refugees I meet. “We care about you and your beautiful children. We will help you find safety. We will love you into a feeling of acceptance and hopefulness.” I straight up want to hug these men, women and kids who have suffered so much, as if I can somehow transfer my empathy┬ávia touch.

I’m one person, and a flawed specimen at that. I’m worried I’ll cry at inappropriate times. I’ll probably offend someone accidentally. I’m definitely not confident in my ability to master the mechanics of 12 varieties of baby carriers. My feet will hurt. The rain will make me sneeze. I’ll miss my children, my husband, my dogs, my friends. But hopefully, I will also realize how Goddamn lucky I am. Not just because I was born in peacetime in a democracy. Not because I’ve got enough (ahem, too much) food and a warm bed. Rather, because I have the opportunity to do something. Friends and relatives and total strangers helped me buy a plane ticket. Packages of relief supplies arrive in my mail every day. My community has blown my mind, and in the midst of this global crisis has reminded me of the awesome organizing power of good people with good intentions.

The best antidote to hopelessness is action. We know this. Research backs this up. My mom even wrote a book on this topic. I’m getting my turn to take action next week, and it’s a privilege even if it’s scary as hell. Your turn is next. Make it great.