What Roger said: On carrying things that get heavy

April 29, 2014 in Inspiration

Coffee factory in Gangwondo

Image credit

Roger was sitting at my table, in the morning sun, chatting about the day’s plans when I found it:

A cup I didn’t recognize, sitting in my cabinet.

“Huh, where did this come from?” I wondered aloud. We only have four cups, so the mysterious appearance of a fifth caught my attention.

“Oh, that’s mine, I picked it up in South Carolina,” he said in his lilting Australian accent, “I thought it would be a nice thing to carry around, but it turns out it’s just another thing that’s getting heavy.”

I smiled and put it back in the cabinet, asked him if I could quote him on that, and the morning continued but in the back of my mind his words echoed in a way he had not intended.

 Today I’m in the process of helping my kids sort their stuff into piles for: Trash. Donate. Save. Pack. It’s no one’s favourite day. Try as we might to live lightly, we always seem to have more than we think we do and more than we need. Lego breeds in dark corners. Art supplies seem to multiply when we aren’t looking. Pieces and parts seem to hide themselves while we’re asleep. It’s a lesson in needs vs. wants and stewardship of what we have, every single time. Small purchases add up. Gifts given and received. Things that seem like they’d be nice things to carry around get heavy when one lives out of a backpack. I always “need” far less than I think I do. Far less than I have at any given moment.

Roger was talking about a concrete thing: a coffee cup, but it was the metaphor that grabbed my brain by both lobes and shook it.

In the concrete world, I certainly carry more things that seem like a good idea at the time but end up getting heavy. Books, mostly. And also sprouting seeds, although we eventually eat those up. I’m famous for picking up shells and rocks, or driftwood pieces that I’m sure I’ll carve into something. I carved one into a spoon, with paua shell for the handle inlay. And then there’s my journal. That thing weighs pounds. I’m definitely downsizing that this summer.

But it’s not the material things that we carry that are the heaviest are they? Those are the things we can sort out, sift through, and organize into piles of “keep, donate, or throw away.” There are other things.

“I thought it would be a nice thing to carry around, but it turns out it’s another thing that’s getting heavy.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m carrying around some heavy things that I’ve picked up along the way.

Things I’ve found in the junk markets of my mind and on the long stretches of flotsam washed up on the beaches of my psyche.

Some of the heavy things I love dearly. They’re worth their weight and I hope I never have to put them down. Not all that is weighty, or causes struggle is to be cast off like an extra coffee cup to make life’s pack easier to carry.

Some of the heaviest things are only partial burdens, things I carry with and for the people I love. So many things are too heavy to carry alone, aren’t they? Burdens so big they threaten to crush us. It hurts to carry someone else’s weighty thing, but I’m happy to do it. We work together and take turns in this life. We build community and we walk together, on days full of sunshine and through dark wet bogs at midnight with all of our worldly selves bundled on our heads to try to keep above the waterline. Sometimes we have to sing together to bear the weight. Other times, we have to cry. Even the hardest things that I carry for those I love are worth it, because the love makes the burden light.

And then there are the too-heavy things that we’re carrying: hanging onto for dear life sometimes, hugging to our chests like a childhood teddy bear, or wrapped around us like a kraken, dragging us into the depths; the things we must put down for our own good. Perhaps things carried for generations in our families. Perhaps things of our own choosing. Perhaps unwanted burdens handed to us against our wills.

It occurred to me as I set that cream coloured up back on the shelf and felt it’s weight released from my fingertips that anything that is picked up, or placed into our hands, or onto our backs can also be put down.

The picking up is a choice. The carrying is a choice. Sometimes we must choose to put something down.

Sometimes, we must choose to put something down.

Once, it nearly killed me to put something down. Ultimately it was love that allowed me to do it, and love that continues to allow me to put it down, over and over, every day, a million times a day somedays. The hard reality is that we cannot collect every coffee cup that comes our way. Sometimes we’re carrying too much and we need to set something down.

Roger reminded me of that. He smiled at me, a little quizzically, when I asked him if I could quote him on that.

He thought we were still talking about coffee cups.