Guilt is a heavy bag. It has no shoulder straps, no wheels. You lift it by a single leather handle, carry it with one hand and then with the other and when it gets too heavy to carry you twist your body into a sideways hunch and drag it along behind you. It bumps into things, gets in your feet, is painful against people’s knees. It is a square affair with metal buckles that do not open easily.
There is a game children play. It is a game for long-haul car journeys and international flights and it becomes more difficult with every added player. One person begins by saying ‘I packed my bag and in it I put’ – a toothbrush, let’s say – and the person whose turn it is next repeats the whole sentence adding an item of their own chosing. And on you go in rounds itemising the things that went into the bag until someone gets the order wrong, forgets an item that was packed or can’t think of a new one. You see, the game comes to a halt when the bag gets too heavy. For ‘I packed my bag’ is a memory game.
And I think that’s what we played, you and I, for a long time, though we didn’t have a lot to pack. Our list of items was short and we remembered them separately: You packed some responsibility and more reason and I packed some compulsion and more guilt and in this way we each managed to carry our own bags. Until we saw that these bags hadn’t been ours to pack in the first place. That we could get aluminium trolleys or nylon backpacks; that it was up to us to stay within maximum weight and size.
You cleaned your house and left your battered bag in a spare room atop a wooden wardrobe. It pleases you to look at it in passing now and then: You burn no bridges, dear brother, you burst my heart with pride. To you the past is no foreign country, nor the future a frightful one. You teach me to travel lightly, even though guilt is a heavy bag. Just how heavy I didn’t realise until I got to set it down. You first coaxed it from my hand some years ago and someone else I trust did it again the other day: Here it sits now, next to me. I’ll walk away from it, in time.