A while ago, I said to my friend Jackie, “Have you ever looked at the people around you on the street and seen the things they carry in their arms?” In the past few weeks and months, I’ve made a point of noticing what it is that people are carrying as they walk the busy, often rainy, streets of Vancouver. I thought it would make an interesting photo essay to depict how and what my fellow human was holding as they went about their day. I have seen a man carrying a cat condo; a woman porting a vacuum; two men crossing the street with a pool table; someone with a bird in a cage and another person with two ladders balanced on his shoulders. I’ve watched many mums and dads with babies: a tall, lanky guy with a basketball; a very elderly man with a tiny Chihuahua held closely to his chest; a twenty-year-old man with a large television and an elderly woman transporting a microwave. Of course, there are the usual things people carry such as suitcases and luggage and heavy bags of groceries. And, there are always those who carry their entire collection of worldly goods on their backs. Some have big, black garbage bags slung over their shoulders, filled with collected empty cans and bottles, heading to redeem their returnables.
Most of us carry things in our lives that weigh us down. I have been paying attention to what people carry lately because it is a metaphor for the feelings and conditions we bear on the inside that are not as visible as a cumbersome ladder or an electrical appliance. But, they may weigh just as much, and be equally awkward and difficult to hold. Carrying extra, heavy weight is a burden. And Jesus’ words ring in my mind and heart saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
The strain of carrying difficult realities, emotions or mental states manifests itself in a variety of ways. When a person appears cold and distant or does not seem to want to engage, that person may be carrying a substantial and wide load. They may be suffering from depression; from anxiety; loneliness; a severe lack of self-confidence; money problems or relationship issues. They may be grieving the loss of someone they deeply loved. They may have lost their job. And some are simply very shy, introverted and for them, engaging with others can be painful and awkward. All of us have spaces within us that remain unfilled or are filled with difficult and painful issues.This may be where much of our living takes place–in these spaces of discomfort and disturbance. Some live lives that are regularly challenged and shaken up.
Perhaps the key to developing a sensitivity to what our brother or sister may be carrying, to the invisible scars, is to be mindful of the fact that no human life is exempt from pain nor trauma. What shows on the outside is how we choose to adorn our physical beings with clothing, accessories, alluring scents and cosmetic applications. What doesn’t show up is our fear, the feelings of separation and isolation that many live with. What does show is certain behaviours such as aloofness, disengagement, apparent apathy or even anger. It is easy to see the behaviour, but not the person.
I am close friends with a woman who I met twenty-five years ago. When I first met her, I couldn’t imagine us ever being friends. She was cold, distant, did not ever seem to want to connect and she certainly kept her distance from me and others. But, after knowing her for a while, she confessed to me, “I am so shy that it is agonizing for me to be in social situations and I get so nervous and anxious I want to either run or throw up.I find it exhausting to be with people.”
I think this might be the equivalent of carrying a pool table across West Georgia and Burrard. For anyone who is burdened by psychological dis-ease, poor mental health, a broken heart or spirit or for a person crippled by anxiety, or a person who is living in a space of disturbance and rupture, I offer this image. Imagine Jesus being aware of you and waiting for you as you cross a busy, rainy, crowded street. His hands are outstretched and his eyes are loving, kind invitations to safety and acceptance. He sees the strain in your eyes and he sees the inside of your being where the tears and the bits and pieces of you that are shattered lie in fragments. As you approach him, he draws you close to him, looks you in the eyes and says to you, “Come to me. You are weary and carrying a heavy burden. I will give you rest.”
As Rumi says, “We are all just walking each other home.”
May it be so.