• Mary Anderson

The Burdens We Carry

It is easy to recognize out here that we all choose to carry different loads. Some go ultralight, carrying no stove and little food, preferring instead to walk really long days. Others carry a lot of extras. I met one hiker carrying an eight-ounce battery-powered toothbrush. For him that was really important. My toothbrush weighs less than one quarter of an ounce, yet we each value our teeth. Often an experienced hiker will help a newbie lessen their load.

What is harder to see are the internal burdens that people carry. There are usually inner demons driving a person to behave in ways that seem unreasonable. Some hikers give up really easily. Others push so hard they forget about enjoying the hike. Some people in our lives seem to react “too easily” to situations, while others barely react at all. What we don't know are the forces such as posttraumatic stress or deep-seated insecurities that may be leading people to act as they do.

I recently sat on the floor of the Denver bus station waiting to transfer buses to get back to the trail. It was way too difficult for me to hobble upstairs to the official waiting area. Many people scurried around me without a passing glance. They did not seem comfortable seeing a 64-year-old woman surrounded by a backpack and crutches sitting on the floor eating lunch.

I had to remind myself not to judge the young man who stood near me struggling to get his pants to stay up while holding what looked like his worldly possessions in his arms. While he was mumbling to himself, his pants fell to his ankles. It would have been easy to think of him as a creep instead of recognizing him as someone in need of a hand. I have no idea what factors caused him to become who he was. I know that had it not been for friends who gave me a hand up when I needed it, I, too, might be wandering the bus station mumbling under my breath.

Another man was weaving along, asking people where the bathroom was. He asked group after group if they would watch his suitcase while he limped off to find one. I told him I would keep an eye on it. He returned about the time my bus arrived. I stood, still hobbling on a painful knee, struggling to get my pack to the bus. This man, whom others had scorned and who had difficulty walking himself, was the only one to help me drag my pack out to the waiting bus.

There we were, two misfits helping each other, seemingly invisible to the "normal" looking people around us. In that moment, if being normal meant judging someone before understanding the burdens they carried, I was glad to be one of the misfits.

I wonder what burdens those normal-looking people carried that made it difficult for them to reach out and lend a hand.

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