The Things We Carry

I was just scrolling back through the folder where I keep copies of all these blog entries along with the unfinished little runts that never make it out into the light of public consumption, and found a document from late 2017 titled “The Lost Year and Moving Forward.” The only thing it says is “Feb 22.” Its brevity seems much more melodramatic than it actually is, I promise. What follows is the story I know I meant to tell back then (though I think I have a better ending now).

My sophomore year of college, I began a little journaling exercise in which, each day, I would write two lines about what I had done: who I saw, what was significant, how I felt. I didn’t keep on top of it as I could have, and was often doing two or three days at once, but I liked reading back over and knowing what I had been doing a month or, eventually, a year or more before. My love of writing is many things, but it’s partly always just been a very simple inclination towards record-keeping. I like to mark down and remember. I kept this day journal up for years, but then, in February of 2017 I had worn a bit too thin. I was feeling lost and heavy. I had a just made the decision to come to Regent, but was deferring for a year, so while change was on its way it was still a while down the road. I kept finding myself getting weeks behind in my journaling endeavor, and then struggling with the unsavory task of remembering what now-forgotten stresses last Thursday had held. So I gave up. And wrote in large letters after my last entry, “And then a respite.”

But, with the notable exception of a week roaming in Wales with my family, what followed did not feel like rest. I continued lost and heavy. And now also unrecorded. What I did and experienced each day, good or ill, was no longer stored away in ink, so most of it slipped out of my head at some point or another to be lost in the ether, as if it had no value at all.

And then came the making of the very short document which I mentioned at the beginning. I think I planned to announce to the world that I had wandered but all was not lost, that I was picking the journaling habit back up with great ceremony, exactly a year after I had left off. This felt poetic, and I love trying to force my life into stanzas. But then I didn’t do it. January of 2018, when I wrote this entry, was particularly painful for many people around me, and I spent the rest of my time in Greensboro living in acceptance of the fact that I was standing on a precipice, held only by the steadfast grace of God. All else was clearly tenuous. And my days continued to pass undiarized, uncared-for.

Then, at the end of last summer, I got on a plane with two suitcases and myself. And after I finally made it here to the green and the August smoke, I had a good cry, opened to a fresh page in the long-abandoned journal, and at last began again. And fall semester was that fresh page: smooth and unsullied. I was in a new place, light and empty, no real responsibilities, nothing tied to my heels any longer. Most days, my feet did not touch the ground. But winter term was markedly different. It was in many ways richer, but also more complex and prickly. Somewhere in my short months in Vancouver, I had sunk in to the happy mud of this place and rooted there. So by February, or maybe sooner, I knew that my emotional vacation was over. I carried things now: people and words and hopes and promises. I look over the little journal entries of my time here and I can see how the place has grabbed on, in a thousand little moments burrowing into a thousand different parts of me. Quicker than I had ever planned, I was back to bearing burdens.

A couple weeks ago, when I walked along Cannon Beach in Oregon with my friend Becky, she teased me about my childlike tendency to grab some large piece of driftwood by its end and pull it behind me, like a silent, reliant beast, drawing a long, long line in the sand which stretched back and back through our footprints. But dragging a stick, sharing its weight with the earth for a while, felt very important to me that day, like walking along a stone wall does when you’re a child. I thought of this moment again recently as I was reading a book by my new friend Robert Farrar Capon, in which he talks about picking a huge marsh reed while on a walk and attempting to bring it back for his children:

To grasp it with one hand and use it in your walking only turns you from a king into an apostle; to try to make light of it by holding it upside-down is to become a deacon carrying the inverted crozier at an archbishop’s requiem. Do you see what you have discovered? There is no way of bearing the thing home without becoming an august and sacred figure–without being yourself carried back to Adam, the first King and Priest.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in which I have at times felt a bit stretched and overcommitted with the responsibilities in which I’ve wrapped myself, but when I read that on the bus on Monday, the disordered cogs inside me seemed to fall into place and tick contentedly. A couple years ago, I stopped recording my days because there was too much to bear, because I was in rebellion against it all. And when I final began to journal again it was because I felt feather-light, unbound. But now, I feel heavy again, and I know that feeling is here to stay. But though I am heavy, I am no longer lost. I am bearing joys and weights on purpose now–the difference is in intent. I must carry my sticks and marsh reeds not as if I am a slave, but as if I am a solemn child, as if I am royalty holding in my hands what is sacred. And at the end of each day I will add them to the growing stores of my journal–a chronicle of the piercing and persistent grace of God.

 

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