I’ve been bearing the weight of a long journey, especially the past few months. So fellow Redbud Writer’s guest post on Bearing the Weight really ministered to me. I know you will feel like Dorothy has come along side you as well.
I woke at 5:00 a.m. to the sound of wood scraping against the clapboard. The three birch trees outside our bedroom had gone from upright to nearly horizontal in the course of the night. It was a brutal storm.
Since we’ve not yet had a killing frost, most trees were cluttered with leaves which acted like velcro for the snow. Camera in hand, I headed for the conservation land at the end of our road hoping for a spectacular sunrise. Instead I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of trees taken out by the storm.
Saver of the Trees
I assumed a familiar post snow storm role – saver of the trees. Moving from sapling to sapling, I shook off the snow from as many as I could get my hands on. I don’t mean to come off as a pantheist, but I deeply identify with nature in crisis.
Due to a more than a decade long battle with chronic illness, like the trees on this October morning, I have many times felt incapable of standing erect. Fibro pain. Eighteen years of disrupted sleep. Sometimes all it takes is one thin coat of ice to make me feel that I can’t possibly shake off the burden and stand up.
With or without a medical diagnosis, many friends fight their own devastating storms: death of a spouse, failure of a marriage, loss of a crucial relationship, the unrelenting nature of caring for a disabled child or poorly aging parent. And that’s just here in a civilized nation. Those who were born in a region that lacks potable water, adequate food and medical care, or a stable governmentsmust clear the snow off their trunks at the advent of every sunrise. I have traveled enough to resist self-pity.
It’s odd to realize that something in and of itself so light could become such a burden. A single snowflake, perhaps even a thousand snowflakes would not even register on a scale. The cumulative effect, the unrelenting nature of chronic pain, be it physical or emotional, pushes it from barely noticeable to unbearable.
The leg and arm pain frustrated, but failed to sideline me. When it progressed enough to prevent me from skiing, swimming, and playing basketball with my sons, I tilted a good 30 degrees. And in the course of this past year, when conflicts in our community came crashing down around us, I could feel my back bending another 45 degrees. A few more inches and my nose will be scraping the ground.
Though I’ve rescued many trees before, I learned something during this storm. Typically, I tap the bent trunks and limbs causing just enough movement to free the wood from its burden. While that worked for the young saplings, it failed miserably with the older trees. The snow was too wet and the weight too substantial. The first limb I used this technique upon snapped decisively.
Needing a new method, I pondered what would serve me and realized that if someone sucker punched me, even if they had the best of intentions, I too would break in half. Instead, I reached under the limbs, ever so gently shaking the snow off, while gradually pulling it up. Even with this white glove treatment, I had a few additional breaks. We lost our peach tree completely and a good section of our dwarf red maple.
A Compulsion of Empathy
My trees saving compulsion reveals both my need as well as my pastoral instincts. I do for the trees exactly what I do for others and what I myself need. My instincts to serve those who bear a crushing burden issues less out of co-dependence, or a need to rescue, and more out of empathy.
I get it. I’ve had enough mornings when it takes all of the courage I can muster to just get out of bed and face another day. And more sleepless nights than I care to recall. Looking past my own limitations and reaching out to another eases my aloneness even as it practically serves them.
On some days however, despite my heroic efforts, I can’t lift my burden let alone anyone else’s. I often find myself turning to written words, seeking meaning and inspiration from others who have travelled this road before me and stopped long enough to write down their experience.
From King David in the Old Testament book of Psalms:
I lift my voice up, to the mountains. Where does my help come from? My help comes from you, maker of heaven, creator of the earth. Oh how I need you Lord. You are my only hope. You are my only prayer. So I will wait for you to come and rescue me, to come and give me life.
If you’re anything like me, waiting is hard. Sometimes excruciatingly painful in and of itself. Even as I dutifully freed many branches and saplings, the unmistakeable report echoed through the woods from trees that succumbed: a crack, followed by leaf covered branches plummeting down to earth. I have my moments when I wonder, Will I succumb too?
The only thing I know to do then is cry out to God and those around me, asking them to lighten my burden, come alongside of me, shake off the snow and gently lift me back up. And as soon as I have a shred of hope and strength, turn and do the same for the ones standing next to me whose heads are still bowed down.
Dorothy Greco is an extraordinary photographer who also writes. She lives with her husband and three sons outside Boston. You can see more of her beautiful work at http://www.dorothygrecophotography.com/
Photo by Dorothy Greco
What about you? Where are you bearing a great weight?