04 May 2008
The Burdens We Carry
(Reprinted from 2007 - back by popular demand)
Amy became aware she was no longer in her bed.
She stood on a plateau of grey nothingness. Around her were people of all different shapes and sizes, but all were charcoal grey from head to toe.
Even their clothing looked colorless.
She was taken in by the vastness of the plateau and the infinite number of people she witnessed.
Amy looked down at herself.
She, too, was the monochrome of the others; her skin as dull as the garment she wore.
The people looked ahead with anticipation on their faces. Amy's eyes followed theirs and feelings of wonder and hope overcame her when she saw a glow on the horizon. Her heart beat faster and she had the urge to run as fast as she could toward the source of the beacon.
Amy took a step forward and felt a heavy weight upon her back. She noticed when others took that first step forward a brightly colored bag appeared on their backs. The others grabbed the opening of the bag as it slung over their shoulders and trudged burdened but blissful toward the beautiful horizon.
"How can they walk with such pressure?" Amy thought. "I wonder what it is."
She removed the bag from her shoulder, pleased to see it was yellow. She always enjoyed the color yellow.
A golden cord kept the contents from spilling out, but Amy had no problems opening the bag. She peered inside and saw glowing bricks of gold. She picked one up. No, it wasn't real gold of earthly fame. It was just a heavy golden brick. And, man, it was a burdensome load.
Amy began to cry.
A man walking by was saddened by the sound.
"Please, Miss, don't cry. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I don't know you, do I?" Amy said through her tears.
The man put down his brilliant blue bag and held out his hand.
"My name is Paul. Tell me, what can I do to help? You seem so lost and afraid."
"I am afraid. You see, I have all of these bricks to carry and I'm unsure if I can do it. I'm so afraid I won't make it. I feel so alone."
"Would it help if I carried that brick for you? Would that lessen your burden?"
"Yes, Paul, I think it may." Amy handed the brick to Paul and as their skin touched, a feeling of love and security washed over her. Her heart felt less heavy as Paul opened his bag and placed Amy's brick on the top.
As he closed the bag, Paul looked at Amy with love and gratitude.
"It pleases me to have helped you, Miss. Thank you for allowing it."
"Thank you, Paul," Amy said, as she picked up her own bag, flung it over her shoulder and started toward the light.
She had gone quite a bit when the bag felt more burdensome. She looked ahead at the light, which didn't seem to be getting any closer. She felt despair wash over her. Amy sat down and started crying once more.
An old lady passing by stopped and sat down next to Amy.
"My dear child, you look distraught. Please, tell me what's wrong."
"Oh, it's nothing. I don't mean to hold you up, Ma'am. Please, continue on your way."
"Friends call me Mabel. 'Cause it's my name, you see," said Mabel. "Now you just wipe that pretty little face of yours and come out with it. I needed to sit a spell any old how."
Amy wiped her face with the back of her hand. She looked at the old woman sitting in front of her. Mabel wore deep caverns in her face from years of life and love. Her grey, watery eyes held a story of their own.
"It's just that I don't think I can make it. It feels so desperate and the way is so far. I want so much to continue, but it is too much."
"Oh, is that all? Well, why didn't you say so?" Mabel reached over and opened Amy's yellow bag. She took the top brick from Amy's bag and placed it into her own scarlet one.
"That should help," she said. And with a swift motion, Mabel swung her own bag onto her back and resumed her walk toward the horizon.
Amy stood and picked up her yellow bag, which was now considerably lighter. She thought she could make it. In fact, now she knew she could.
It wasn't long before Amy's bag began to dig into her back. She stopped walking at once and threw the bag down. How was she ever supposed to get to her goal if things kept happening to her? It made her really angry she had to deal with this. Why her? Nobody else looked like they were in pain. She looked around at the other souls making the way toward her goal - HER reward.
"IT'S NOT FAIR!" she screamed into the crowd. People stopped and gaped at her.
"DON'T LOOK AT ME THAT WAY!" she shouted. "YOU PEOPLE HAVE NO RIGHT TO WALK WITHOUT PAIN. LOOK AT ME. LOOK AT MY PAIN. YOU HAVE NO RIGHT, I TELL YOU! IT'S JUST NOT FAIR!"
A little boy held out his hand to Amy.
"Give me what causes you pain," he said. "I am young. I can handle it."
Amy was so angry she almost threw that brick at him, but in one deft movement, the boy caught the brick and tucked it neatly away in his purple bag and smiled.
"Thank you," he said as he continued on his way.
But Amy still steamed with anger. She wanted to punch someone. Anyone. Then she felt a warm hand upon her shoulder. Amy turned around.
A kindly old man stood with his hand outstretched.
"That much anger will make a soul sour. You need to relieve yourself of it. Come on, hand it over before your heart turns to stone and all hope is gone."
Amy dutifully grabbed the topmost brick and handed it to the man in silence. Her anger dissipated. Her heart felt light once more. The pain in her body disappeared. She was ready to continue on.
Amy picked up her bag and noticed there were only three bricks left. Her burden felt lighter, manageable even. She might be able to make it to her goal so very soon. She swung the bag on her back and practically skipped on her way, leaving other souls in her wake. But as she passed, she began to notice something strange. The people walking along beside her, the people she passed as she practically ran glowed with a soft yellow light. She looked down at her own skin. It answered back in monochrome.
Amy looked far ahead and saw the souls way up there almost beamed with golden light - much like that of the horizon. She stopped in her tracks. Maybe something was wrong. Maybe she should be turning golden, too. Maybe she'd walked too fast and hadn't given the light ahead a chance to soak through her skin.
"Is anything wrong?"
Amy turned to see a woman about her own age standing a few feet away.
"Um, no, I don't think so anyway. I was just... I was just thinking that maybe I should have walked slower. Maybe I didn't do this the right way. What do you think?"
The woman looked toward the golden horizon. Amy noticed a golden glow emitting from this woman's skin. She felt a pang of jealousy. The woman looked into Amy's eyes and smiled.
"I know what you're thinking," she said. "You have doubts about your trip; about your destination; about your origination. You also feel you should be this golden color; that you deserve to glow, too."
"How do you know that?" Amy asked.
"Because I feel that way, too. I have doubts and moments of jealousy. But, I think I've figured out a way to work through these thoughts." The woman held out her hand to Amy. "Please let me help you."
Amy reached in her bag and handed two bricks to her. Amy felt gratitude for this stranger who wanted to share her burden. After the woman placed Amy's bricks into her own green bag, Amy leaped forward and hugged the woman fiercely.
"Thank you ever so much. You have been such a blessing to me," Amy said.
"And, thank you, Amy. I've always been here to help you."
"How did you know my name?" Amy looked deep into the eyes of the woman standing before her and recognized her sister at once.
Her sister smiled and said, "Now, go. You have much ground to cover." She kissed Amy on the cheek.
Amy heart overflowed as she left her sister and took her yellow bag with only one brick and ran as fast as she could toward her goal. She passed people along the way who stood, crying about their own burdens. Amy felt no pity. She watched as others ran to these poor souls' sides to assist in their loads. Amy had no time for that. Her goal was so close.
So very, very close.
Amy came to a tower of golden beams - the most beautiful thing she ever saw. She wanted so much to enter. Then her heart lurched when she realized it held nothing of tangible substance. Only light.
She turned and looked out over the crowd of souls headed her way.
A man walked up beside her, his own bag brimming with burdens; his skin too brilliant to see. She watched as he opened his bag and poured grey sand on the ground. She saw him throw his orange bag far into the air. Amy sucked in her breath as the orange bag disappeared into the vastness above, and she covered her mouth in awe as the man disappeared into the golden tower - becoming one with the light of the goal.
Amy looked into her own bag. The brick inside continued to glow a bright golden. It had yet to turn to grey sand.
A woman beside Amy busily poured sand from her own bag.
"Excuse me." Amy cleared her throat and continued. "Please forgive, but do you know why I'm not golden? Why hasn't my brick turned to sand? What have I done wrong?"
"Oh, that's just silly. You can't do anything wrong, child," the woman said. "Here, let me see."
The woman looked into Amy's bag. "Well, dear, wherever are your bricks?"
Amy pointed into the crowd. "I gave my bricks to them."
"Oh, I see. Paul has your FEAR. See, he's struggling under its weight... no, wait. See! He's overcome your FEAR." The woman sighed in relief.
Amy watched as Paul stood straighter and glowed brighter.
The woman looked around some more.
"There now, I see you've given your DESPAIR over to Mabel. What a wonderful woman she is, don't you think? Full of life and vigor... a real down-to-earth woman she is. Wait. I think your DESPAIR may have done her in... no. Great! WAY TO GO MABEL. KEEP ON TRUCKIN! See, my dear, nothing to fret. Mabel had her own despair to overcome first, and then she handled your DESPAIR with ease." The woman finished emptying her bag. She rolled it in a ball and prepared to toss it into the sky.
"No, wait, please." Amy started. She was mesmerized at the glow Mabel now emitted and wondered at the calm look on Mabel's face as she walked toward them.
"What dear?" The woman lowered her hands, still holding her bag.
"Please... more," was all Amy could muster. Her heart raced and she felt she may have made a big mistake.
"All right, then, if I have to show you from A to Zed - We all have our burdens to carry. To you, yours look worse than mine. But, look at that woman there." She pointed at a young woman walking toward the light. "Her burdens were the same as yours, but her FEAR, DESPAIR, ANGER... well, all of them actually, stemmed from cancer. Look at the little boy who took your PAIN. His burdens stemmed from child abuse by the people he loved."
Amy searched the crowd and found the boy on his back. His mouth opened in a silent scream. His eyes watered with tears and his body writhed in pain.
"Oh my God! No, I didn't mean... but he wanted it. He asked to take my pain. He THANKED me for it."
"Didn't they all? Just because one offers, dear, doesn't make it okay to burden others with your bricks. Now look at the old man to whom you unloaded your ANGER."
Amy had a difficult time taking her eyes from the little boy, who was now curled up in a ball and rocking back and forth on the grey, unforgiving ground.
She pulled her eyes away and searched the crowd for the old man. She not as much saw him as heard him. His angry voice carried over the crowd.
"GET OUT OF MY WAY, YOU IGNORANT FOOL! WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON'T AGREE WITH ME? HOW DARE YOU THINK YOU KNOW ANYTHING, YOU IGNORAMUS!?"
The man sat on his bag and shook his fists at others. Hatred blazed on his face. A small girl walked up to the old man and handed him a brick from her own bag. The old man stopped shouting, put the girl's brick into his bag and started walking toward them again.
"What just happened?" Amy asked.
"That young child gave the old man her LOVE. The only brick one should ever give away, because, you see - once you give it, another one replaces it in your bag. Look. See? You still have your LOVE, even though you gave it away."
Amy looked in to see the one remaining brick in her bag.
"But why is LOVE a burden?"
"Oh, my dear. You’ll have to figure that one out for yourself."
Amy looked out across the crowd, searching for someone. Her eyes rested on a beautiful woman, about her own age, sitting on a bag, sobbing pitifully. Amy knew her sister struggled with DOUBT and JEALOUSY. She knew because she had burdened her with them.
Amy looked for the little boy. He stood where he once lie, weak and limp, but his skin glowed a little brighter and a smile crept onto his worn face.
Amy looked at her sister - the goal so close, but seemingly given up.
Amy looked at the woman beside her.
"But I didn't give it away. LOVE, that is."
"Why forever not, dear? It's the only burden you carry worth giving away." The old lady threw her bag into space and joined her light with the others. Amy stood alone. And, she felt more alone than she stood.
She looked into her bag. Her golden brick taunted her.
She peered out into the crowd. The boy had started walking. She ran to him.
"Hi, Lady," he said weakly. "What brings you back here?"
Amy took the brick out of her bag and handed it to the boy, whose face beamed brighter once the brick touched his skin. He placed the brick into his bag and wrapped his arms around Amy's neck.
"You are a kind and wonderful being," he said.
She didn't feel so kind and wonderful, but she hugged him back just the same.
She then ran to her sister.
Amy put her hand into her bag and pulled out another brick. The woman was right. It replaced itself. She handed the brick to her sister.
"I am sorry to have burdened you with my JEALOUSY and DOUBT."
Sis took the brick and smiled at Amy.
"Thank you, Amy. I was sitting here, feeling it was unfair you got to enter first, but now I see you deserve to go first. You are a wonderful and kind person. But, I doubt if I'll ever be good enough to enter."
Amy felt her bag. Sure enough, there was yet another brick in it as promised. She pulled it out and handed it to her sister, who took it. She noticed her sister's skin begin to glow a brighter golden. Then she noticed something else: Her own skin shone just as brightly.
Amy pulled her sister up and took her hand.
"Come on, Sis - Let's go there together."