The Heavy Bag

My sister Nancy tells the story about a time when her boys were under two years old and, as mothers of young children often do to keep from going insane, she visited a friend.

Besides her two sons, Nancy brought along with her a backpack she carried in lieu of a diaper bag.   It featured many convenient compartments and was not covered in ducklings or whales as were most diaper bags in the late nineties.

So, Nancy had this backpack and it was heavy. Like, monumentally heavy. And she was at the home of a friend we’ll call Kristin because that is her name. And Kristin’s children were older, so she didn’t need a diaper bag or even a backpack anymore. Gone were her days of baby wipes and fishy crackers and teething rings and nursing pads and sippy cups and pull-ups and nasal aspirators.

For better or worse.

When the time came for my sister to leave Kristin’s house, she put her enormous baby on her hip (no really, he was enormous) and asked her toddler to hold her hand and then she heaved the monstrous backpack onto her shoulder.

She slumped a little under the weight.

And her friend named Kristin looked at her with kind eyes.  “Your bag won’t always be this heavy.”

Now, I happen to know Kristin. She is not only kind, she’s also super smart; and I suspect that while her statement was a literal fact, she meant it in a much bigger way.

Your bag won’t always be this heavy.

Kristin was right.

Today, Nancy’s kids are 17 and 19. For more than a decade, they have carried their own bags (sports, groceries, school).

And while I wish I could report that my sister’s days of heavy lifting are over, metaphors are tricky sons of bitches. Nancy has got other bags to carry now. They’ve simply taken on different shapes.

Don’t we all drop one burden only to pick up several more?

Children bring baggage. But so do jobs. Or spouses. Dear friends even, and extended family. Financial worries. Health issues. Loss. Grief. Pain.

Eventually, everyone feels the weight of a monumentally heavy bag.

What we don’t feel is surrounded by Kristins, with calm eyes and wonderful bag-related metaphors.

Or perhaps we do have a Kristin or two, but we think we can’t reach out for one reason or another. Or these Kristins reach out on their own and we tell them

No, thanks. It’s okay. I am fine

even as we slump under the weight.

Why is accepting help so difficult for us? Guilt, maybe. Or pride.  The fear that if we admit to one crack in our shell the whole damn egg will be destroyed. Nobody wants to be Humpty Dumpty.

So we tell everyone we’re all right even when we’re not.

But here’s the problem:

When our bags are too heavy, we do stupid things to alleviate the slump. Perhaps we sleep too little or drink too much. We might yell at our kids or curse the dog or stop trying, hoping, dreaming.

We end up hurting ourselves. And worse, we hurt the ones we love.

It’s so silly, really, when help is all around us. Sometimes we slump too far, though, and forget.

When our burdens become too great to bear, we should welcome any support that’s offered to us. Let someone else who cares disperse the weight.

(Like me, for example. I’m pretty strong when I’m not too busy being weak.)

Wherever you are right now, please consider the bag you carry alone. Maybe there’s more than one. You might be staggering under the pressure.

Then say after me:

My bag will not always be this heavy.

(You can do this in the mirror but if you’re anything like me, you haven’t showered yet or brushed your teeth and poor self-image is a compartmentalized backpack all by itself.)

Now. Say it again. Louder.

My bag will not always be this heavy.

This time try to believe it. Then reach out to your Kristin.

I promise she’ll need help with her own backpack someday, too.

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40 thoughts on “The Heavy Bag

  1. Di

    Julie, I have never known you to be too weak and you have been Kristen to more people than just to Nancy and me. When our bags get too heavy, we all know we can turn to you. Thank you for starting my day with a smile and a tear. <3

    • julie

      I love you, Di.
      And you’ve carried more than your fair share for many people.

  2. I should have known better than to follow the link, thinking that you’d be talking about a new boxing workout, utilizing a heavy bag 🙂

    What I find is the fact that the physical bag isn’t as heavy (I used a backpack, as well, more for functionality than anything else – the ability to put a soiled outfit in its own compartment, carry formula/spare clothes/diapers/whatever was priceless) makes the emotional bag even heavier. My kids are growing up, and that weighs on me.

    Why is asking for help so damn hard? I wish I knew. I’m horrible at it — and, because I’m horrible at it, I assume that everyone else is horrible at it, so because I only ask for help when I’m actually at my breaking point, when someone comes to me for help, I assume they’re at their breaking point and, if I’m someone heavily involved in that person’s life, well, that means I was letting them down WAY BEFOREHAND. And, yeah, that’s a bag that I carry. All of the time.

  3. Mom

    Oh, wow, Jules. That’s it… just, oh, wow! xoxo

  4. Beautiful, Julie – and so true. I am definitely guilty of trying to carry the whole damn thing myself. Because it seems that everyone around me is already at their weight limit…
    (Also, I have a very high tolerance for pain, but only until something actually hurts 😉 )
    Thank you for writing this!

  5. Made me cry. I couldn’t stop the tears. Because all too soon, we are carrying something only slightly larger than a fanny pack.

  6. Megan Venanzi

    Beautiful writing about a beautiful person 🙂

  7. what a wonderful reminder.

  8. This speaks to me in so many ways. I recognize that my parenting backpack is less heavy these days (in regards to basic needs), but so much heavier when it comes to the social world, and the big, sometimes cruel world.

    Here, I’ve had to accept more help than I ever have in my life. And I try to pay it forward, with mixed results. And like everything, I have to ask myself, “Am I helping to help or because it makes me feel important?”

    There’s a lot to chew on here. And you always, always express it just right.

  9. Bailey

    Wow, your writing is beautiful!

  10. Nanny K

    I <3 You!!…for willingly sharing the weight of my heavier bag these last few years. For reminding me of the truth in Kristin's words. For making me laugh, when I've clearly cried enough. And for knowing that sisters & wine & naps & & the passage of time (not necessarily in that order) always help lighten the load!! 🙂

  11. Suzie

    MY BAG WILL NOT ALWAYS BE THIS HEAVY!! Thank you for being my Kristin! I love you! More than you know!

  12. Christy

    You said the same thing to me when I came to your house one day with the crew. And it’s true, that diaper bag is gone and the metaphorical bags have replaced it. I’m liking my new bags, though… much more than those diaper ones!

  13. Ah Julie,

    Such wise and beautiful words from my wise and beautiful friend.

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who is terrible at asking for help. (Though in other ways I wish I was because it’s so stupid.) Why do we think we have to do it all ourselves like insistent toddlers trying to tie their own shoes before they’re ready when you know it’s only going to lead to a massive meltdown? Sigh… I don not know.

    My backpack will not always be this heavy. I believe it! (Most days.) 🙂

  14. —–Dear, Julie,

    you know what I love and appreciate about you?

    Your layers.
    Your metaphors.
    Your depth.
    Your substance.
    Every word matters like breaths.

    It’s never just a bag, a load, a sentence…

    Your writing is “Life.”

    xx

    btw, I think my bag shall be beautifully light (only when) I inhale my last breath….

  15. Just absolutely, wonderfully beautiful!

  16. Missy

    Beautiful. Perfect.

  17. Perhaps because all of my kids are in school and fairly independent, I’m practically wearing a sexy little fanny pack. (Well except for the damn bags under my eyes. Have the phone number of a good Doc?) I wish I could carry you and your wise words around in a backpack.

  18. Oh my Julie. The way you lure me in with your writing. Wow.
    I needed this. Thank you my friend.

  19. It’s so, so true. All of it. For better or worse.

  20. My bags are multitudinous and heavy. I shoulder the weight becuase it’s mine. I’d like help, but I refuse to ask for help. I know, I know, deep within, that the bags won’t always be this heavy. I get juuuuuuuuuuuust that close to asking the Kristins in my life to help, to listen, to take just one thing out of the bag from the left because that’s where it sits against my hip the hardest and now I’m limping from favoring that side. I get that close. And then I say nothing. Oh, but I’ll tell the bottle. Jose Cuervo is my boyfriend and he listens and he soothes and I don’t feel bad about giving it all to him until the next day when I just start it all over. I have Kristins. I don’t use my Kristins. My Kristins — there are so many of them — would absolutely help if I asked. But that’s part of the problem, Julie. I won’t ask. I never have. Even as I type this and know you’re wanting me to ask, I can’t. I’ma just shift the bag, rub my sore hip, and keep on limping. I do, however, wish a Kristin would just…know.

  21. This line stabbed me right in the heart today:

    “The fear that if we admit to one crack in our shell the whole damn egg will be destroyed.”

    Sometimes that’s necessary, though, to get through the hard parts. What a wonderful way you have of looking at how we can lift each other up when we need it.

  22. Like Angela, the line that really got to me was “The fear that if we admit to one crack in our shell the whole damn egg will be destroyed.”

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “I don’t know how you do it all!” when internally, I’m trying to tell myself not to look down or else I’ll see that I’ve run off the cliff and am just moving across air Wiley Coyote style.

    I’ll add your mantra to my list. My bag won’t always be this heavy.

  23. Ann

    I love this, Julie. A lot.

  24. Oh how I needed to read this today… words we all need to hear. Many of us don’t do enough to help others carry their heavy bags. Or at least acknowledge them. xoxo

  25. I can’t see what I’m typing. All the tears are in the way! My bag is so first world right now, but still, it’s dang heavy and I am dang tired. Thank you for lifting it off my shoulder for a minute (it’s hard to cook dinner when I’m lugging this thing around).

    Beautiful words, Julie. May you always and forever have someone there to help with the weight of it all.

  26. You and your lovely way with words …
    I feel as though I have been offered concierge service with a line of porters offering assistance in these last months … there to help at my bidding on those days where I admit that it is a little tough riding this elevator alone. So many ups and downs and often times thinking about hitting the button to keep it between floors in a no mans land – somewhat like my life.
    Why is it that we feel the need to keep the smile on our faces, hoping others will believe that we can shoulder on when inside we are wondering how to get thro even the next hour?
    Reaching out, we tell others to reach out, just let us know … while we keep so much of our own burdens deep inside.
    I am so thankful for my blog, my blogging friends … and the reading between the lines.
    Beautiful xxxx

  27. This is perfect. I randomly (sort of) came across your blog (from San Diego Momma) and isn’t it awesome the way the world works? You think you’re setting out to read a blog that’s new to you in search of something good AND YOU FIND IT?

  28. I tested up reading this, Julie. After some of the hardest years I’ve muddled through, I know the truth of your words and how list I was before I remembered to ask for help with the heavy bag.

    Also? Reminds me of my favorite Tom Stoppard play, though the quote has little to do with your post.

    “We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?”

  29. Right now, my bag is crushing me, to the point where some moments, I feel like I can’t breathe.
    But I have Kristins around me. For that, I am blessed and grateful.
    I also have a housekeeper called Janice, thank the good Lord.

  30. I was too prideful and overwhelmed to accept enough help when my bag was too heavy but I had people like your Kristen who pointed it out anyway and saved me and my loved ones in so many ways. I love that I’m now in a place to pass that help along.

  31. My bags are light right now – and my guilt is heavy because of that. OMG I cannot win. Love this xo

  32. I have been working hard to teach my 8th grader the importance of knowing when to ask for help. Not an easy lesson, especially when his father used to believe that taking a beating (no literal) in silence was worth something because if you stood your ground eventually you’d prevail.

    Sometimes the smartest thing we can do is ask for help.

  33. KTP

    I love this post. I waited until I could settle in and relish it. Since you only post once a month your words have to be savored slowly…

  34. I loved this post so much, Julie. It’s the first time I have read your blog, and although I found you through Wendi Aarons’ post on her wall, I have seen this one shared by many of our mutual friends. I can’t wait to read more of your work.

  35. That IS the perfect metaphor!! And all so well said, of course. It can be hard to ask for help, yet, most of us would willingly help others. Why do we think people wouldn’t be happy to help us!?

  36. I can say this to others. I cannot say this to myself. Often because I am so busy trying to manage the heavy bag. And also because I don’t think anyone will want to help me with it. It’s a lie we tell ourselves, because when someone else has a heavy bag to carry, people come out of the woodwork to help them with it.

    Beautiful post.

  37. The tears welled up in my eyes…blurring your beautiful words as I tried to read. I am the first to offer to carry everyone else’s loaded down backpack but have such a hard time asking for help. I am also a bit sad that my load seems to be getting lighter these days…that there will be no more stylish backpacks for me.

  38. You’re kind of like a Kristin for me. Seriously!

    (Since you said I could call you by any other name).

  39. Karen Peterson

    Love this; I need to look for more opportunities in life to be a Kristin for others…I think sometimes that helps to alleviate the heaviness of my bag. Thank you so very much for sharing!

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