Ann says my backpack weighs 40 pounds. It may. She thinks this is too much weight for my back, and she sometimes gets irritated that I don’t let her carry it for me. Since my surgery, there are so many ways I ask for help, so many ways I feel like a burden when I’m feeling sorry for myself. My backpack is a burden I can carry, so I insist on it.
Monday, November 11, 2013
The Things I Carry,a sequel
In the main compartment, I carry my MacBook Aire, my kindle, my Al-Anon book, chargers for my computer and kindle, and my orange writer’s notebook. Because I eat my dinner at school, I carry my dinner, and because I can’t see well (and like the cheeriness of it), I pack my dinner in a bright, colorfully dotted cloth lunch bag.
In pockets attached to the outside of my backpack, I carry a long glass bottle of water to help me manage dry mouth from medications and a pair of “fit overs,” sunglasses that fit over my prism glasses.
In the small pockets, I carry pens (sometimes they work) and eye drops, important for maintaining vision because my right eye doesn’t water, and a dry eye hurts and doesn’t see so well. I carry a cleaning cloth for my glasses and an old-school calendar with a bright red cover (the easier to see it with). I carry allergy medication, Kleenex, mini-pads and toilet paper (like the Boy Scouts, I like to be prepared). I carry back-up batteries for my hearing aid. (When the battery gets low, it beeps intermittently so that I hear it but others don’t. The beeping’s helpful, but annoying.)
I carry an extra pair of prism glasses, a checkbook and a magnifying glass, an energy bar and a toothbrush, a nametag for the American Association for University Women that I’m supposed to return at the end of a meeting, but I keep forgetting. I carry cards with my name and the name of my blog in case I meet someone who might want to read my blog or get in touch with me. I’m a Chapstick-carrying lesbian. I carry a couple of pills that I forgot to take long ago. I carry my phone and my wallet with my emergency contact information.
My professor, Bonnie, who teaches me about death and dying, offered to carry my backpack on our field trip to a crematorium last week. She offered a couple of times, a kindness, and when I refused her help, she said, “I don’t want to over-help, but…”
My backpack’s physical weight does not weigh me down. The backpack’s a kind of security blanket. I know I have what I’ll need and that I can get in touch with someone if I need more help. The pack keeps me anchored to the earth when I fear I might float away.
My internal burden is heavier: along with the joy and gratitude of living, I carry in a dark sometimes forgotten corner of my heart my losses—sadness for the loss of long hikes in bear country and kicking down dusty rural roads of people of different colors and languages than I.
Though I don’t need help with my backpack, sometimes I do need help with emotional weights. I am discovering that I am not good at asking for help, and I am beginning to learn to ask for help with this emotional weight when I need it.
Two weeks ago, in my Death and Dying class (that’s not really the name, but that’s what I call it), I fell into an existential swirl as I re-remembered my losses. In this swirl, I felt overwhelmed by all the people I try to support in some way. I was so overwhelmed that I asked for silence and space. These friends and family taught me that they are there for me, just as I try to be there for them. This was a humbling lesson full of grace.
Friends sent articles on grieving, poetry, and words of space and support. My parents seemed especially glad to talk with me, and my dad—with whom I often argue—shared an insight that helped me: “When you were going through surgery and radiation,” he said, “things were moving fast and you were working to survive. You didn’t have time to grieve. It may be good that you’re grieving now.”
As Ecclesiastes and Paul Seeger tell me, for everything there is a season. This is my time to mourn. And I am finding peace in that.
So, as many of you ask, what am I learning in my third graduate school? I am learning about new ways of living in the world, a history of struggle for so many people. I am hearing again the call to serve. And I am learning about myself, about the dark corners of my heart, the pain that I have not embraced.
I am a slow and stubborn learner, but I am learning that I am small and that there’s a gift in my smallness. As we sang in church yesterday, when I’m weary and feelin’ small…the people I love are here for me. You will help me carry my load if I will let you.
You are teaching me about grace.