Years ago I liked sharing an exerpt with my students. I’d turn off the lights, have them close their eyes and listen to chapter one of The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I love the repetition, the diction, the power of those words. It is a very powerful section of a very powerful book and I love it as much today as I did years ago when I first read it. I was thinking about that section the other day–it seems that the days hardest for me are the days snippets of books comfort me the most.
O’Brien wrote of both the physical and emotional burdens carried by those soldiers through the jungles of Vietnam. And there I was, Tuesday night, washing dishes in the midnight hour mulling over the same thing.
At CrossFit, we do a thing called a “farmer carry” which entails picking up something heavy and carrying it a distance. There are athletes down at the gym that can lift very heavy things indeed. They leave me in awe over the sheer weight they are able to carry, especially in comparison to the relatively tiny amount I am able to lift. But the challenge to a farmer carry isn’t so much being able to pick up a heavy burden but to carry it the distance.
When watching folks go about completing a farmer carry, most folks look basically the same. They square their shoulders, take a deep breath, and lift. Most look determined and strong. But by the time they reach their destination, the sheer effort of carrying the burden is written across their faces, straining muscles, bulging veins, and shaking limbs. It is the distance a burden must be carried that equalizes the athletes. Because regardless of initial strength and determination, all are taxed by the end.
Most folks don’t head to the gym and do a farmer carry. But we all must carry burdens. And no matter who we are or how fit we appear to be, we are taxed by the effort of carrying those burdens.
Some burdens are immense and anyone would face them with trepidation. Others seem slight and rather easy. However, it isn’t the size of the burden but the distance it must be carried that cannot be ignored.
Everyone around you is carrying burdens of all sizes. Some require a herclean strength but are over quickly. And some wear down a body by the need to be carried day in and day out. Some are visible and some hidden quite deeply.
But all must be carried.
Perhaps the greatest kindness is to help carry another’s burden, if even for a short time.