I got a letter in the mail. It was from North Dakota, a place where I had never been. There were two Scooby Doo stamps on the right-hand corner, and a return address I did not recognize. I opened the envelope, and inside was an old brown leather luggage tag. I recognized my writing, and I knew the tag had once hung on the handle of my suitcase to identify that it was mine. Of course, it was meant to give information should the suitcase get lost. To let someone out there know where to find me, and where to send the suitcase.

Inside the envelope was a letter, folded in thirds. Typed out carefully in calligraphic script.

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“Hi, my name is Karen, and I work part time as a ramp agent. I found your luggage tag while working and wanted to return it to you. Here’s to many more safe travels.”

I put the letter down and I looked around my kitchen. Who sends a luggage tag through the mail? Why didn’t she just throw it away? Who was this person in North Dakota?

These questions didn’t leave easily. I thought about them all day. And the next, off and on. She must have brought it home, sat down and typed out a note, attached two stamps – worth about the cost of the contents! She had an intention to find the rightful owner of the tag, and she followed through with her intention. Luggage tag received. Made it home.

Maybe this could be really important. Maybe simply putting that tag in an envelope and sending it home could model something important and alter the course of the world just a bit.

I recalled the ideas I learned when training in a coaching program at The Arbinger Institute. I recalled learning something like this: Imagine seeing something on the ground, perhaps in your home or office, and not picking it up. And the immediate justification that follows: “Someone else will get it.” Or “not mine…” We then create a space between ourselves and the rest of the world. We put ourselves in a box of sorts. And the “other” in our mind, who will pick it up, becomes a sort of object, not a subject to whom we feel connected. What if we pick it up? Then we remind ourselves of how we are connected to humanity.

I have a similar experience at times when doing improvisational theater, a hobby I have enjoyed and studied for thirty years. Up on a stage, working with a partner, you never know what’s going to happen; brilliance or train wreck. But there you are, sharing a moment with someone, creating something. And it really only works if you care about your partner, if you are curious about who they are, what character they bring, and move the scene forward by providing gifts. A name, a place, a purpose, and the focus on your partner often helps move the scene along.

In a therapy office, whether I’m the therapist or the client, we work together back and forth to understand something new through a conversation rooted in curiosity with the potential to reach a greater sense of connection both to each other and to the world at large. We aim for less reliance on defenses, less fear of the world, and maybe even the generation of an impulse to help someone else.

A mother gazing at her infant… the infant gazing back. Back and forth they go. Like two improvisers sharing a moment. Playing and creating, taking care of each other up on stage. Like two people connecting in a psychotherapy consulting office. Exchanging ideas and feelings back and forth to reach a deeper truth. A shared experience of humanity. Like a luggage tag… traveling through the mail….to find its rightful owner.

What luggage tag can I send out into the world? What can we all do to surprise someone just for a moment? An unexpected hello. An offer to someone in need. The breaking of an estrangement of one sort or another. An unexpected gift from the tarmac finding its way home.

With a pen, a paper, an envelope and two stamps, I say thank you to someone on a ramp in North Dakota for reminding me for a moment of what it means to be human. 

File under: Musings and Reflections