We sat in a circle. Two men in broken chairs, two girls in the grass. The older man – the one pushing seventy – the one sitting on the rainbow chair that gaped in the middle – had a story to tell, and he had called us – Clarence, Kristina, and I, over to hear it. I crouched, balanced above the grass in a way that I had seen my father do many times before, and thought about how the need to share stories was popping back up into my life once again.
His name was Ben. Like many men of his age, his youth had found him in the jungles of Vietnam. The experience had left a heavy weight on his shoulders. A weight that he carried for years, through marriage and family and shame and sickness. He carried that weight into his sixties. And then he found Christ in a friend by his bedside; in a church in Tennessee.
And that’s how he ended up here – sitting in a broken chair in the grass outside Martha’s trailer. Earlier that day he had helped to put in laminate flooring. He and his fellow church members carried furniture and old carpet, Advantech and tubs of floor leveler. They made bathroom repairs, replaced broken windows, and laid down a new floor. Martha nearly cried when she saw it.
Earlier in the week, they tore down a deck and some old rails. They carried crow bars and bits of old wood, spud bars and post-hole diggers. They dug holes and carried posts to set upright inside. They pieced together a deck with wood and nails and sweat and well-aimed jokes. The dogs sat and thumped their tails on the wood while Martha looked on, her baby grandson on her knee.
They all carried a lot this week, this visiting church group from Tennessee. But as I sat there in the grass, listening to Ben’s story and watching the bright yellow butterflies gather around the creek bed in the sunlight, I couldn’t help but think about the other things we all carried.
Strangers in a strange land killed with the pull of a trigger – your trigger. A daughter with a drug addiction who can’t be helped. An abusive father who left scars that will probably never heal. A bad decision, that, like most bad decisions, had its consequences. Weighty things that furrow brows and bow shoulders.
And I couldn’t help but think about the things that I’ve been carrying. The fact is, I’m still carrying the weight of last year. And as much as I try to shake those feelings of failure, of being a disappointment, of inferiority and inadequacy, of crippling self-doubt…I have yet to succeed. As much as I’d love to unstrap that backpack and let it fall to the ground – as much as I know I need to – I find…
I don’t know how.
But I like to think that, like Ben, I will find it in quiet places like this. Places where sunlight and camaraderie and the smell of new wood make loads easy to carry. Places where Christ stirs hearts and broken pieces are picked up and mended. Places where you realize that God would be happy to take your burdens – if only you would be willing to give them to Him.
Note: My title, and hence, my theme, was inspired by the book The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, a collection of short stories about the Vietnam War.