A Bag or a Box, time is running out.

by Todd Mitchem

Excerpt from Todd's new book, "You, Disrupted" 

when: at what time.

Your When is now

A bag . . . or a box?

I looked up at the man standing in front of me in the airport TSA line. He looked like any ordinary man, simply dressed and cleanly shaven. I could see in his eyes he was unsettled about something; I thought it could be nervousness about travel, or he had an important meeting and was anxious to get it over. As I was mulling all of the situations that could make someone nervous at the airport, the mystery man pushed his plastic bin containing his belongings into the security scanner and got in line for the final body scan. Since he didn’t present any immediate signs of hostility or danger, I ignored him and his restless agitation, returning my attention to placing my items into one of the plastic bins for scanning. I was about to enter the body scanner just as the man exited it on the other end. That’s when everything changed. Suddenly, one of the TSA agents began barking directions to the man in front of me in a way I had not heard before, “Sir, I need you to remove the contents of that bag, NOW!” The TSA agent and some of the security guards who gathered around this man had terrified looks in their eyes; the man in front of me was unsettlingly calm, but emotionally on edge. As directed by the agent, he gently reached into his large travel bag. The man moved his hands carefully and, with utmost care, pulled something out that put more fear in everyone around him. It was the largest Ziploc bag I have ever seen, with contents known only to the lone traveler. No one behind me noticed the bag, chiefly because of the growing number of TSA agents, security, and police gathering around at an alarming rate. But as the crowd of security grew, it was clear even to the most distracted traveler something was wrong. And there I was, right next to this man and his mysterious bag.

This dark-haired man held up the cryptic bag in front of the TSA agent who had originally given him the orders. The contents of this special container were a mystery to anyone looking on; it looked like light gray powder and there was a lot of it. The man gently sat it on the counter. I noticed the police officers standing next to me reflexively slid their hands up to the holsters of their side arms as if planning a response to a possible attack. It was then I asked myself, “How did I end up in this situation?” “Was I so distracted I ignored all the signs this man might be a terrorist?” “Would I be shot in the crossfire?” I froze. Until, a few seconds later, I was asked by a police officer to step into one of the TSA check stations, right next to this bag-carrying individual. So I did. The line of people behind me was stopped, with a guard blocking the only possible entrance to the other side of security. I had never felt more vividly I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You could feel the fear of everyone rising, as no one could figure out what was in the bag and if it was causing harm to the people around it. What if the contents were already airborne? What if everyone was already sick from whatever was in the bag?! The TSA officer looked at the man and sternly said, “Explain.” As the man with the bag started to explain what was in the bag, the mood of the crowd immediately surrounding him began to quickly change.

As it turned out, this man and his wife had been vacationing in Denver. They had been there for about two weeks when his wife suddenly died from some type of brain aneurism. While he was explaining the situation to the crowd of security, he was getting more and more distraught, with silent tears streaming down his face. He continued to explain that he wasn’t able to afford any other means for transporting his wife’s body home and someone had convinced him cremation was the best method. You could just feel a wave of relief and, at the same time, a wave of sadness blanket the entire area. No one said a word, no one moved, everyone continued to listen to the man and his heartbreaking story. He slowly reached into the open duffel bag still on the checking station and pulled out a much smaller Ziploc bag. This one was filled with personal belongings, which he dumped on the table. A woman’s watch, assorted keepsakes, a necklace, a phone, and the last things to fall out of the bag were her engagement and wedding rings. The man began to cry more as he talked about what had happened and that he did not mean to scare anyone. He was just trying to get his wife home.

I still choke up when I think about that moment, which I was so close to as a spectator. I wish I would have said something to this poor man, but I was in complete shock. The police and TSA instructed the man to repack his bag and told him he was free to go. This time there were no instructions that were rapidly and forcefully barked. Instead, everyone was quiet and no one knew what to say. There really wasn’t much anyone could say. The mystery man took his belongings and quickly disappeared into a crowd of travelers heading for their gates. He was finally free to take his wife home.

Silence encapsulated the entire security area for a while even after the man had walked away from the security line. I collected all of my belongings just coming out of the scanner. Half-dazed by the event that had taken place, I started to walk toward my gate; my mind forever altered, thoughts running though my head. Just minutes ago, the situation looked like a scene from a disaster action film; feelings of danger lapping at everyone’s heels. But everything changed so fast no one even saw it coming. At the end of the day, no one was hurt. The onlookers may have stopped and felt sad for a few minutes; perhaps called a loved one to tell them how much they loved them. Everyone just got back on their electronics and returned to whatever they were doing as if nothing had happened. Of course, the most affected person was the man who will carry the pain of his dead wife in his heart for years, while, for everyone else at that security station, he was just a simple man carrying his beloved wife home in a bag.

There is one fact of life we all ignore constantly: life will end

We will all end up in a bag or a box after our death. We have all heard this before, but we seem to forget just how fragile and short our lives truly are. And maybe we will not realize the importance of our lives until it’s too late, when we are out of time, thinking back and realizing we could have done more. The one important foundational learning I hope you gather from this story is your “when”—to be, to do, and to have everything you want—is now. Let me repeat that: Your WHEN is NOW! All you have promised to do for yourself and for others—that moment to start doing them is right now. You have no guarantee you will have another moment after this one has passed. 

You can pre-order, "You, Disrupted" by clicking the image below.