Carrying the Burden


Some days, I feel like 'The Giver' (from Lois Lowry's book of the same name). I feel overwhelmed and burdened by all the pain, death, destruction, and sadness in the world---as if it's my job to carry it with me. Yet, I also know that you cannot truly understand and experience the good things in life like beauty, grace, love, joy, or peace without both sides of human experience existing in tandem.

When I was 18, this excerpt from A Severe Mercy (Sheldon Vanauken) was one of my favorites:

“He had been wont to despise emotions: girls were weak, emotions–tears– were weakness. But this morning he was thinking that being a great brain in a tower, nothing but brain, wouldn’t be much fun. No excitement, no dog to love, no joy in the blue sky– no feelings at all. But feelings– feelings are emotions! He was suddenly overwhelmed by the revelation that what makes life worth living is, precisely, the emotions. But then– this was awful!– maybe girls with their tears and laughter were getting more out of life. Shattering! He checked himself, showing one’s emotions was not the thing: having them was. Still, he was dizzy with the revelation. What is beauty but something is responded to with emotion? Courage, at least, is partly emotional. All the splendor of life. But if the best of life is, in fact, emotional, then one wanted the highest, the purest emotions: and that meant joy. Joy was the highest. How did one find joy? In books it was found in love– a great love… So if he wanted the heights of joy, he must have it, if he could find it, in great love. But in the books again, great joy through love always seemed go hand in hand with frightful pain. Still, he thought, looking out across the meadow, still, the joy would be worth the pain– if indeed, they went together. If there were a choice– and he suspected there was– a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and the depths and, on the other hand, some sort of safe, cautious middle way, he, for one, here and now chose the heights and the depths."

Just out of high school I had my youth and optimism to hold me up as I experienced the pain and disillusionment that often comes with getting older. It's amazing how much you grow up in your 20s. Your world gets a whole lot bigger. This is especially true if you throw in major milestones like living on your own, a career, marriage, or parenthood (all guaranteed to mature you at an accelerated pace). This quote doesn't resonate with me quite the same way it did at 18, but that last line---a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and the depths and, on the other hand, some sort of safe, cautious middle way, he, for one, here and now chose the heights and the depths---I seem always resonate with this particular sentiment.

There are times when you absolutely DO want the safe, middle way. Usually in the midst of or right after something painful. There have been many moments in my life when I longed for numbness just to not have to feel the pain. That is, I imagine, when most of us put up walls that keep others out. We're protecting ourselves from additional pain.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think life is suppose to be like a movie. I don't buy the lie that life needs to be dramatic to be interesting. I feel that a life full of conflict, unbridled emotion, and restlessness (all pretty important to the rise and fall of a plot) probably leads to discontentment and shallow relationships. There are in fact aspects of life that are completely dull. There is value in discipline, responsibility, and commitment. If we chase the drama, we certainly will have the highs and lows, but I fear we'll miss out on the depths. The depths require investment in people and places, long-term nitty gritty sometimes completely boring investment. That's okay with me. There are suffering people all over the world that would give anything just to have some boring. I shouldn't take even the most mundane aspects of my life for granted.

...but what about this burden? The knowledge of good. The knowledge of evil. Pain. Joy. The best and worst of life on earth.

Somedays it's easy to remember that the sad things will come untrue.
Somedays I forget.
Somedays the weight of it all feels like it will crush me.
Somedays it's feels like there's nothing to carry at all.

I'm glad that unlike The Giver, I don't have to carry the burden alone, but---it must be carried.

On the bad days, I listen to Vice Verses and ask God hard questions.
On good days, I listen to Where I Belong and thank God for answering.

And every day I wake up wondering which sort of day it will be.

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