I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders. — Jewish Proverb
Um, if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t mind a lighter burden. If my shoulders get any broader, the hip to shoulder ratio will be way off. I’m going to get too top-heavy and topple over. Even if I managed to stay on my feet, from a purely practical standpoint, how would it work? How will I ever leave my home? I won’t fit through the doorway. I’ll have to go out sideways, and I’ll knock a lot of things over. It will be a mess!
Breaking. Crashing. A cat squealing. Sorry, was that your tail? Oops, I really didn’t mean to step on it again. Yeah, I said again. Don’t judge. I’m not trying to do it, but that thing is small and my shoulders are really wide. They’re restricting my field of vision. I can’t see where I’m going, and I swear, that damn cat comes out of nowhere.
Can you imagine having to walk through life sideways? You’d have to spend half your time begging someone’s pardon and the other half cleaning up the mess. To make matters worse, your shoulders grow wider every time life slaps you across the face with a glove and yells, with a caricaturish accent, “Challenge!”
A duel at ten paces! Or, is that twenty? I’ve never been in a duel before. What? Like you have! Really? Huh, well done you, I guess. It hasn’t come up in my day to day life. Yet.
What are the rules here? When it comes to dueling, how does it work? In this case, I imagine it’s something like an obscure Monty Python sketch that requires a great deal of inebriation to fully appreciate. I can’t be the only one who can’t get into that show without a little something, right? Okay, maybe I have a particular sense of humour that can’t relate, but I can appreciate it. Peripherally.
This is something they would’ve come up with if they were very low on ideas and getting a lot of pressure from the man upstairs. Whomever that maybe? I imagine it’s someone named Bob. Bob’s the kind of fella that’s a stickler for punctuality with little regard for the creative process.
Poor Bob. He must spend a lot of time in frustration and consternation. There’s a pill for that, Bob. Just take the pill.
Desperate for ideas, the pitch goes thusly: The two combatants, with shoulders wider than the hood of a 1970’s Cadillac, crab walk onto the battleground. It’s a wide-open field, to accommodate their extraordinarily broad shoulders. It’s ringed with trees that sway in the early morning breeze. Bird’s caw in the distance. The sun, barely awake, stretches and yawns. The grass glistens with the fresh morning dew. It’s so peaceful that it’s hard to imagine a duel to the death is minutes away.
The duellers move with purpose, but it takes them a while to get to their marks. After all, those exceptionally broad shoulders are not easy to maneuver on legs that look like match sticks under black cloaks. They shuffle along with fierce, yet comical, determination. They finally hit their mark and take a moment to catch their breath.
Standing shoulder to shoulder, they turn their heads to glare at each other. This is it. The moment of choice. Go ahead with courage or go home in shame. Neither will back down so, with a nod, they shuffle off in opposite directions.
The sun moves higher in the sky and by the time they get there, it’s already high noon. Whatever the means? I heard it in an old western movie once. It was two AM and sleep hates me.
Where was I? Right!
Weapons in hand, the call to aim is given, and their arms flail in a desperate attempt to raise their pistols. While broad shoulders may carry a lot of burdens, those tiny arms weren’t given adequate rotational axes to produce a coordinated movement.
A shot is fired, but it goes wild and splinters a distant tree. Another one goes straight into the ground. They give it their all but in the end, these mighty warriors, with hysterically broad shoulders, collapse with an echoing thud. Too tired to carry on. Too sweaty to keep a grip on their pistols.
Yes, it’s a duel with an anticlimactic ending but, isn’t that just life? A comical confluence of absurdities that cause us to explain, “Oh, common on! Seriously?”
My point, if I have one, is that life needs to stop slapping me across the face with a glove and challenging me to some archaic ritual. It’s just silly. I fail to see the logic behind it, and I don’t like guns. No, that’s not a political statement. It’s simply a personal preference. They’re loud and make holes in things that shouldn’t have holes. A persons body, for example, and we’ve all been given all the holes we’ll ever need, thank you very much.
But I digress.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, real quick. I’m not saying this because I want sympathy or pity. I certainly don’t think my life’s been harder than yours. Even if, by some lucky flip of the coin, one of us has gotten off easier? No, even then it’s just silly. What I’ve been through doesn’t make me extra special or deserving of something shiny.
Oh no, my friend, I’m sure your life has had plenty of challenges and you’ve faced them admirably. This isn’t a measuring contest. We both deserve something shiny. You and me? Equal footing.
I’m not proclaiming woe is me and I’ve never swooned a day in my life. I’m a little curious about the whole smelling salts situation. Not curious enough to time travel and give swooning a go, though. Besides, I’d look ridiculous in a hoop skirt and corset.
“I’m not asking for fewer burdens, but for broader shoulders.” Huh. Silly sketch aside, this one is a real head-scratcher. In sentiment, I agree with the message it’s conveying. In practice?
It’s just that, I think my shoulders are proportionately accurate and I’ve gone through enough. I don’t need any more challenges. I’ve had plenty and I still have enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life. Hell, I don’t want the ones I have. I’ve tried to send them back, but that’s a no go. So, sorry to make this awkward, but why would I want more?
I’m not going to welcome more burdens into my life with open arms. Knock on my door all you like. Go on, keep knocking, and see what happens. Have I ever slammed a door in someone’s face? No, but if life keeps this up, it will be my first.
Stop it. Just stop. Please and thank you. My kingdom for a moment’s peace and quiet! It doesn’t matter how many times I offer my kingdom, life doesn’t take it. Maybe I need a kingdom first? Add that to the growing pile of unsolvable mysteries.
If I was a little more spiritually enlightened then, yes, I’d embrace this sentiment with an open heart and mind. Asking not for less of life’s hardships, but an unwavering fortitude. The courage to face adversity rather than the speed to avoid it. The strength to stand my ground, to fight, to look life’s challenges dead in the eye and not flinch. If I was more evolved as a spiritual being then maybe, just maybe, I’d ask for these things.
But no, I haven’t evolved beyond my meager self. I’m simply me. Tired. Weak. Completely flummoxed. Which is why I’m asking for less worry, stress, anxiety, fear, challenges, hardships — There’s a list. It’s long. It’s a little petulant at times but mostly, I think, it reflects the weariness that a lot of us are feeling right now. The thought of more? The idea that, if we were more enlightened, we’d not ask for less? Is it just me or is that sentiment a bit unpalatable? Or, just unrelatable?
The small voice of a tiny character, in a long-ago movie, is rolling through my head, “Please sir, I want some more.” More? More! No, I’m good but thanks for asking. So sweet of you.
When it comes time to carry more burdens, for me, it’s less about the width of my shoulders and more about the strength of my community. The people around me who’ve held me up when the burdens became too heavy. In many different ways. Big. Small. Silly and serious. They didn’t stand around, waiting for my shoulders to grow and that, I think, is the key to surviving burdensome times.
Or is that too Pollyannaish?
I watch the news or, heaven forbid, go onto social media and it seems that this idea of community is becoming as archaic as a duel. It’s been so devalued that we’re slowly turning ourselves into a cluster of deserted islands. It’s becoming all about the individual and our own personal needs, desires, comforts. The idea that someone might have differing needs? Yeah, sorry, “Not my problem.”
When someone points out that they have needs that a community can fill? They’re called selfish and yelled down. All the while, the rest of us are locked in our own selfish pursuits to the detriment of those around us. That includes strangers, friends, loved ones. It gets easier and easier to ignore the whole when we spend all of our time preserving ourselves.
Which one is being more selfish? Honest question. Both might, technically, be correct.
Oh, you know I’m going to say it right? Just in case you need to read it: I’m no better. I have a tendency to isolate and withdraw from people. I push people away. I don’t want to be a burden or get in the way. I’m more comfortable on my own. My life is my problem, but then I’m at home, alone, and the loneliness is deafening.
If the voices online are any indication, then it’s safe to say I’m not the only one feeling like they’re being drowned in the loneliness.
Yes, the news and social media tend to focus on the worst and most sensational. It gives a megaphone to the angry, sad, lonely people who take their feelings out on others. These people are propagating a fallacy that all for one and one for all is a fairy tale. They’re selling a lie and we’re buying it. Or, so it seems.
I need to remind myself that this loud minority doesn’t speak for the majority of us who still believe in the power, strength, of community. They don’t speak for me, for my friends, for you. But they are hard to ignore and, sometimes, it feels damn near impossible.
Maybe that’s why I’m looking at this quote and wincing. I can’t imagine asking for more or not asking for less. It doesn’t matter how broad my shoulders become! If the concept of community is now fading into the ancient past then what? What do I do? I’m not strong enough to carry my burdens alone. I need my small community to help me and, yes, when they need my help I’ll be there.
That’s how communities work, right?
In the spirit of complete honesty, I’m not evolved enough to fully absorb this proverb as truth just yet. I’m not wise enough to fully understand it either. I am asking for fewer burdens. Leave my shoulders alone. I’m not a fan of touching. One more thing? No, just no.
If, however, more burdens are placed on my shoulders then I ask for a community to hold me up. I ask for the courage to let people in. I ask, no matter how selfish they may be, that my needs are met with kindness, love, and understanding.
Oh, and this might be pushing my luck, but I really don’t want to walk through life sideways or duel in a field. I just don’t wanna do it.
Community can help us have the “courage to face adversity rather than the speed to avoid it”. I may not speak for the majority, but I personally don’t believe I can reach my optimal spiritual, emotional and physical well-being without the support, encouragement & participation of a community, whether its formed from my neighbors, classmates, colleagues, teammates, family, or friends. How can those who achieve “elightenment” alone be relatable to anyone who’s not completely isolated?
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