In front of us, piled on a highly glossed wooden table, was an assortment of keys, lipsticks, mascaras, and hand creams. There was one tube of foot cream, two bottles of Advil, one bottle of Excedrin, and assorted prescription drugs. There were tea bags, nail files, perfume, hair brushes, make up, one extra large bobby pin, a dozen hair elastics, pens, several bottles of hand sanitizer, packs of gum, credit cards, receipts, tissues, dental picks, cash, coins, reading glasses, barrettes, bandages, and yes, tampons (wishful thinking, perhaps?)
The pile was a social experiment of sorts. While waiting for our salads to arrive, my friends and I agreed to empty out the contents of our purses at a local restaurant. We wanted to see what we travelled with every day.
When a tennis ball and two golf balls came out of my friend’s over-sized bag, I was half expecting that she would next pull out a floor lamp, a la Mary Poppins. “that’s Interesting,” one of us commented.
“The balls are to exercise my feet for my planta faciatis,” she explained, and I had a good laugh, because I’d been there, done that. I was hardly one to pass judgment on the contents of anyone else’s handbag. I had four pair of reading glasses in mine.
But I wondered as we sat there, “does what we carry in our purses say anything about where we are in our lives?” Admittedly, we carried a large assortment of beauty, styling and drugs. But as I finished lunch and drove home, all I could think of was a book I had read so many years ago. “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien, is a brilliant novel about the emotional burdens of a Vietnam War platoon, as seen through the things the men in the platoon carried with them.
What we carry at midlife has only a little bit to do with what is in our purses. It is more about what we talked about over lunch. It became clear that we carry a lot more around with us than lipsticks and tennis balls:
We carry laughter. We are itching for that moment where we can let out a great big belly laugh.
We carry a need to be loved; a person to curl up with at night.
We carry a need for good sex… but not every night.
We carry a need for a good night’s sleep.
We carry strong shoulders that can be leaned on by our friends.
We carry big egos and big insecurities.
We carry a need to be heard.
We carry a need to read a great book.
We carry a need to nourish our bodies with good healthy food, and then spoil ourselves with chocolate.
We carry the memories and expectations of lost parents, spouses and other loved ones.
We carry the hope that our children will find the right person to love and that someday—a day not too far away– they will give us grandchildren.
We carry a desire for a good haircut and an excellent colorist.
We carry the hope that we will have time the time to do the things we really want to do.
We carry willpower.
We carry stability.
We carry empathy.
We carry about 10 pounds more than we would like to carry.
We carry an ability to get things done.
We carry the need to make the world a little bit better.
And for sure, we carry purses that are way too heavy.
After lunch, my friend started to apply the bright orange lipstick she found at the bottom of the bag, but the rest of us nixed it. “Lose that color,” we told her, “it’s awful.”
So I guess we also carry some honesty with us as well, at least when it comes to friends and lipstick colors.