Sunday, August 06, 2017

Bearing Burdens

As we disembarked from the rear door of our plane in Perth and walked across the tarmac, one of my fellow passengers caught my eye. I'd noticed him prior to boarding as well, an aboriginal man, slender, loose-limbed, probably about my age with a shock of thick white hair. There was something distinguished about him, something beyond mere description, perhaps it was in how he moved, not gracefully exactly, but easily, lightly. And then it hit me: the guy had no hand luggage. The rest of us were bearing at least one burden, most of us two, but here was this man, just walking away from a three hour flight with nothing but the clothes on his back.

I pride myself on traveling light. The last time I was in Australia I managed it with but a single backpack for five full weeks. On this trip, however, I've added not only a computer bag, but also a large hard-sided piece of check-in luggage to transport a stash of my new book in case people want to purchase a signed copy along the way. It's one of the unexpected burdens of being an author. So I'm traveling "heavy" this time around, but I'm not the only one. I watched this fellow with envy as he swung his arms freely, taking long easy strides, pivoting his head from side-to-side to take in his world, rather than bending to the task of carrying as rest of us were.

I followed in his easy-going wake through the terminal and down to baggage claim where I assumed his care-free day was over, but as the rest of us stopped to wait for the carousel to start up, he walked right past without breaking stride, swinging those arms and taking those strides, right out the door and into the world, free as a bird. As free as any animal for that matter other than humans.

I've heard scientists propose that it's our big brains or opposable thumbs or ability to use tools that sets us apart, or even above, the rest of the animal kingdom, but what about this propensity to carry burdens? For the past couple days as I've played tourist in and around Perth, I've looked for others like the man I spied at the airport, people who are not bearing something, and it is indeed quite a rare sight, which is why I suppose he stood out to me: a modern human going about the world with nothing to weigh him down. Indeed, I've spotted a few of my fellow humans striding along with their backs, shoulders, and hands unoccupied, mostly shopkeepers and clerks on lunch breaks, but they are few and far between. The only general category of mankind that seems to share the non-burden bearing lot of the rest of the animal kingdom is young children, whose adults are therefore often then burdened with extra baggage, as if bearing it for them by proxy until the day they must assume it for themselves.

It's impossible to not reflect on this phenomenon as metaphor; to dwell on the mental, emotional and spiritual burdens we all bear; to muse upon the contrast between unwanted or unnecessary burdens and those we take on willingly or out of a noble sense of responsibility; to ponder the tolls and rewards of such burdens and the rightness or wrongness of the toil. I've done that, but mostly I've just wondered about the real, physical burdens that virtually every single one of us carry with us from place to place on our journeys through the world and throughout our lives. We put them down at our destinations, or sometimes just to rest our arms and backs, but we pick them up again, carrying with us the stuff we might need or can't do without or find we must transport from here to there.

And then there is this man from the airport. I've had moments like the one he was having, although I've come to hold him in my head as a sort of special human, an icon, one of those who has figured out how to live his life without bearing burdens from place to place, like a bird or like a child. I want to be more like that more of the time. Yesterday, I limited myself to only those things that fit in my pockets: wallet, keys, and phone. I walked about Perth swinging my arms and taking long easy strides, pivoting my head from side-to-side to take in my world. I did feel free, or at least freer, than I've felt in awhile.

Hey friends! I'm currently in Australia where I'm appearing in venues around the country. I'd love to meet you! A few of the events are sold out, but there is still room in others. If you're interested, click here for details about my "tour."

Also . . .

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

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