On a recent trip to Malta I experienced something new. At age 59 that doesn’t happen every day so I stopped and took notice. My luggage was lost.

This event was even more startling, as my husband’s bright red suitcase was the very first one to arrive off the airplane. That too was a new experience. As the baggage carousel circled round and round, and the number of unclaimed bags decreased, my level of anxiety rose exponentially. I craned my neck watching the bags as they made their entry into the crowded hall as if that would encourage my small, burgundy duffel to be the next one out. Finally, the carousel shuddered to a halt, and with it all hope that my bag would arrive.

With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I went over to the Baggage Claim desk and pulled out my passport where the luggage tags had been affixed just a few hours earlier in Tel Aviv. I was horrified to find that there was now only one luggage tag, where previously there had been two, and that one remaining tag was, of course, my husband’s. Not only did I not have my bag, but I also did not have the tag to prove that I had sent it.

The clerk frowned and clicked his tongue, succeeding in making me feel like an irresponsible toddler. He assured me that while he would try, he could promise nothing, since I did not even have a tag to show that I really did check in a bag. My eyes teared, and my lower lip trembled. When he asked whether I had baggage insurance I recalled to my dismay how I had refused it just a few hours ago, in order to save a few shekel. The clerk rolled his eyes and sighed. To note that he offered no compensation along with his lack of sympathy would be redundant.

We ran to catch the bus that had two remaining seats for us, to take us to our hotel. An internal dialogue started up that went something like this:

Get a grip.

Get a hold of yourself.

It’s just a bag.

Do you want to ruin your vacation?

This is your chance to show the stuff you are really made of.

This is adversity, and here is your chance to be resilient. Life unexpected? See what you can make of it.

Need I mention that I have headed up the Resilience Unit at the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma for the past 12 years, and recently published a book called, “Life Unexpected”?

During the 30-minute ride to the hotel, I began an inventory of what was in my lost bag, having decided that I would never see it again. I decided that taking an accounting, noticing what I was missing, feeling sorry, and then moving on would be the way to salvage the vacation. All in the space of 30 minutes. By the time I got off the bus, I have to admit that I was feeling much better, albeit a little shaky.

Since I am of the belief that things happen in this world for a reason, trying to figure out what I was to learn from this turn of events was uppermost in my mind as I went out to shop for a very few essentials. Bathing suit, underwear, hat and suntan lotion, an extra shirt and pair of shorts were quickly purchased, and then I settled in to enjoy a wonderful five-day vacation. Occasionally I would have a stray thought about what was in my lost bag, and a twinge of regret that it wasn’t with me but for the most part I let those feelings go and focused on fun.

On my last day in Malta I sat down to write the lessons learned. Here goes:

  1. Notice how attached you are to stuff. Then, notice how well you can get along with so much less than you thought. Next time I travel, I am convinced that no matter how long the trip, I will go with one piece of hand luggage consisting of three pair of underwear, one change of clothes, a good book, and a very small toilet kit. Ok. Maybe I’ll pack a bathing suit too!
  2. Figure out what are the real essentials in life. What do you need to have a good time? Does your luggage provide any of that? Probably not. On my list of essentials for a fabulous vacation are: a good frame of mind, a wonderful travelling partner, and a sense of adventure. You do not need an extra bathing suit, a beautiful dress, or even a spare pair of earrings.
  3. Control. The issue is control. Losing luggage reminds you of how little you control in life. This is a lesson I should have gotten the first time around with breast cancer. It is amazing how quickly one forgets. Okay, I get it now. I am not in the driver’s seat. I am not in control.
  4. Living in that nether land of “what ifs” is actually the hardest place to be. My thinking went something like this: What if my luggage comes? Then I will be sorry about all the money I put out to replace my stuff. What happens if it never comes? What if they don’t compensate me? What if they do? I decided to live life as if that bag would never show up. Kiss it goodbye. Lead my life as if it is gone forever. So much so, that I gave up on calling Air Malta after the first day, after several frustrating and unsuccessful attempts.

When my bag finally appeared 12 hours before departure, I was almost sorry to see it. Almost, but not quite!