A suitcase stolen, a treasure gained

When my plane touched down at San Jose, Costa Rica, I was dizzy with anticipation. I'd been planning this trip for almost a year. I'd settled on a week at a retreat on the Caribbean Coast - individual bungalows tucked into the hillsides of a rain forest, fresh vegetarian meals, daily yoga classes, and excursions to various natural preserves. It sounded idyllic; the perfect escape for a single mother of three children.

As I collected my baggage I marveled that the trip had been so smooth. Both my flights had been prompt. The taxi driver, hired by the resort to deliver me to the bus terminal, was waiting patiently, holding a cardboard sign with my name on it. Four more hours, I thought, and I'd be ensconced in the jungle. I'd listen to howler monkeys conversing in the night and awaken to exotic songbirds.

But that didn't happen. My suitcase was stolen at the bus station, and suddenly my bucolic escape was a nightmare. I had no traveling companions and weak Spanish-language skills. Except for a small carry-on, my suitcase was all I had with me.

Very quickly, my adventurous spirit dissipated. I yearned for the safety of home and the comfort of my children. I felt violated, enraged, and painfully alone. I kept mentally retracing my steps in the bus stations. "If only I had..." kept rushing through my mind.

Beyond those depressing thoughts, I wondered how I'd get by with no change of clothes. I was wearing black pants, a sweater, and a jacket - hardly suitable for a week in the tropics. The closest shops were four hours away by bus. And the most I could hope to get were some flimsy beach outfits designed to appeal to tourists - hardly appropriate for jungle hikes.

The resort owners were not encouraging about recovering the stolen suitcase. But they were sympathetic and promised a thorough search for the bag. Their kind words didn't take away the inconvenience, however. Taking a shower that night in my bungalow, I was relieved to find soap in my room, but had to "comb" my hair with my fingers. Clean, but stark naked, I crawled into bed for a fitful sleep, tossing and turning to the noise of howler monkeys shrieking, coconuts falling on my roof, and torrential downpours beating against the screens.

I woke at the crack of dawn, unable to sleep for worrying about my suitcase. I dressed and walked around the property for hours until the other guests stirred and breakfast was served. There, I sat with several women from Massachusetts who had come as a group to work with their yoga instructor. They had overheard the tale of my lost bag at dinner the night before. Almost immediately, some of the women approached me, offering to take up a collection of essentials to get me through the week. I gratefully accepted their offer, having no idea of the scale of their generosity.

Within minutes one of the women came to my table with a bag containing clean underpants, socks, tank top, and shorts. Her gift brought tears to my eyes. It would have been so easy for the other guests to turn away from my troubles. Instead, they reached out to me with an outpouring of aid.

Word of my plight spread among the guests. Soon, my once-barren dresser held three pairs of underpants, two pairs of socks, four tops, a long-sleeved cotton shirt, three pairs of shorts, a one-piece swimsuit, a two-piece swimsuit, water shoes, sandals, three containers of bug spray, two of suntan lotion, and a pair of binoculars. All were gifts that the women insisted I not return. In the end, I only needed to buy a handful of items.

By no means did I look fashionable in my hand-me-downs. Everything was too big, and nothing matched. My daily "uniform" was black stretch yoga shorts and an ill-fitting swimsuit top, but I didn't care. The clothes were treasures in all that they represented.

"You will receive what you need," one of the guests observed confidently, and I did. The two-piece swimsuit and a bottle of sun screen was waiting for me on the morning I was to take a day trip to the beach. When I was due to take a "plunge" through the jungle on a zip wire, I found a bottle of bug spray left for me by another departing guest.

Within days my obsession over my lost bag dissipated, replaced by a cocooning glow of love. The women from Boston had shown me that the simplicity of love was a powerful antidote to a false dependence on things. The clothes I had lost were things I could easily borrow or buy again, while the lesson I had learned from them was irreplaceable.

Those women had given me the gift of peaceful release. They had helped me to know that love generates more love and that forgiveness follows close behind. By the time I returned home I knew that losing my suitcase had been more of a blessing to me than a loss.

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