In rural European countries, even into the 1950s in France, women carried 100-pound-bundles of hay on their heads while raking. In many parts of the developing world, women carry on their heads baskets of food weighing close to their own body weight. It’s the only way to transport their harvest to sell at local markets. Infantry in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan have to carry 150–200 pounds of gear, armor, and weapons into battle.
But is this the only backbreaking weight they carry? Does the woman in rural Europe have a husband who had a debilitating accident while farming? Or a child who ran away from home, who yearned to leave rural poverty and seek a better life in a faraway city? Or is an infantryman deathly afraid that he will never return home and hug his wife and four-year-old daughter again?
What is the weight of pain, loss, and anxiety? It’s beyond measure.
Bearing the Unbearable
I remember seeing young mothers, shoulders hunched, as they sat on the edge of their child’s hospital bed. Fathers pacing the hallways or staring out windows without blinking. Grandmothers bent over and weeping.
How do we learn to bear the unbearable, to carry the terror caused by an avalanche of diagnoses? We can learn ways to lessen the weight on our backs. If a friend offers to sit by your child’s bedside, you can settle into a nearby quiet, light-filled room and write in a journal expressing the fears and hopes trapped inside. If your sister says she’ll spend the night with your hospitalized child, you can go home, eat a favorite meal in front of the fire, read a poem or two, and crawl into your own bed. If your community offers to create a schedule and drive you and your child to appointments, you can respond, “Yes.”
Imagine this. You are the woman in rural France carrying a mountain of hay, or the woman in Africa with a harvest of potatoes in a basket on your head, or the soldier who falls and is unable to get up again. And then close your eyes and imagine four farm workers who divide up and carry the hay with you; three friends who carry the harvest to market with you; or two soldiers who bend down, link their arms in yours, and lift you up again.
The road will be rugged, leading to unknown terrain, but the kindness of others will lessen your backbreaking burdens, and in time, the unbearable could become bearable.