Saturday, June 18, 2011

Things carried

"Think about the things you carry,” he said to me a few days ago. So I’m thinking.

It was my counselor who challenged me with this assignment. He’s the pastoral counselor I’ve been seeing in the past few weeks since my brother was murdered. I’m just trying to sort out some things, to come to grips with my brother’s death, which for me was the latest and most horrific in a series of losses.

My most immediate thought was The Things They Carried, the gut-wrenching, beautifully written novel about the war in Vietnam by Tim O’Brien. In this book the author details the things that the infantrymen carried through the jungle—rifles and ammunition, communication equipment and mess kits, as well as letters from home and photographs. But these things that the troops carried are symbolic of their emotional burdens—fear, grief, love and longing, guilt, and an increasing alienation from their former lives back home.

Obviously the counselor is not asking me to think about the things I carry literally—not my purse and my calendar and my water bottle—but the things I carry figuratively. Some of the things I carry serve a purpose, they help me survive. I need a decent amount of fear to protect myself physically. I need a modicum of financial concern to keep a roof over my head, food in the pantry, and gasoline in my car. Just because I’m human I feel grief when I lose someone important to me. I love my children and grandchildren and don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop worrying about them or wanting to protect them—it’s just what mothers do. Yes, I feel remorse about things I have done and things I have failed to do, but I also realize that no amount of guilt will rewind time and let me relive the past. Yes, I sometimes fear the future. I fear facing future losses, I fear sickness and pain, I fear old age and loneliness. I fear anxiety, depression, and dependence. I wish I didn’t carry those fears but I don’t know how to put them aside.

Mostly I’m trying to focus on things like resilience, wonderful friends and family, creativity, and faith—these are the things I carry that make me strong.

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