Recently I was listening to an interview of a backpacker who hikes as a “minimalist.” I know what you are thinking – this is not about hiking in the buff! Minimalist backpacking – or ultralight as it is more commonly called – is about packing the minimal essentials for the hike. Instead of a tent, for example, he packs a tarp. He cuts the handle off his toothbrush and removes all the tags off his gear. His “stove” is not one of those expensive, fancy kind that I covet. He uses the bottom of a soft drink can that he has modified to burn twigs and leaves.
The interview was intriguing, but I like my gear, tags and all. This guy is so into minimilast hiking that he even shortened his name from “Clint” to “Lint.” Who needs that extra consanant? In the interview he reflected that when he first started hiking trails he quickly learned what he could do without. So far he has clocked over 14,000 miles all over North America and all along the way he has shredded “gear and fear.” He dryly observed, “You pack what you fear. If you fear bugs and weather, you pack a heavy tent. If you fear hunger, you pack too much food. If you fear the cold, you pack extra clothing.” You pack your fears.
I noticed others packing their fears this past week as the threat, and then reality, of Hurricane Irma blowing through. Gasoline was in short supply. Grocery store shelves were emptying. Most all of us were hunkering down at home, myself included, staying off the road. You pack your fears.
When I pack my backpack – whether I am going out for a multi-day trek, or just a long day hike – I try to make sure I can squeeze as much as I can in it in order to be prepared. This means my pack is usually heavier than it needs to be, but I do not like to be cold, or hungry, or afraid. You pack your fears.
Maybe I need to lighten my load a bit, but not just on the trail. I wonder about my own overstuffed pack that I take up each day. Fears are a heavy burden. Insecurity of selfhood is quite a load to shoulder. The tyranny of what others think is practically unbearable. The worry of “what if” or “what could be” can be weighty. I need to take a few things out of my pack and trust that I can carry on in this life’s trek without them.
The belief in scarcity was a load that the ancient Hebrews carried out of Egypt. Wandering through the wilderness, the story tells us much of their time was spent complaining about the manna and craving for meat, and looking back to their enslavement in Egypt as something better than the uncertainty of the future. The burdens of uncertainty was too much, and yet there is this elegant line in Exodus 31:2, “The people who survived…found grace in the wilderness.”
There is grace when you pack less, trust more, and sojourn onward. Grace comes when you realize you are not defined by what you possess or accumulate or defend, but by your inherent worth as a human being, created in the image of God. When you pack less, you have room to love more, especially those who are weighted down by fear and failure. When you shed all those things that are simply not necessary, you are set free to hold things gently and treat others compassionately.
“Let your capital be simplicity and contentment.” Henry David Thoreau
Peace in a world that needs it,