[Woman With A Burden by Ron A. Cheek]
My husband said to me the other day, when I was shocked by how much I weighed,
“Maybe it’s all that anger you’re carrying.”
He smiled at me. He was trying to cheer me up, lighten my mood, take the weight off, so to speak. The kids were screaming, we were late, and I was three pounds heavier. And even though he meant it as a joke, I had this flash of imagery, for just a split second, of me lifting a great weight off my shoulders and setting it down. I thought, “Maybe he’s right.”
I’ve been on the verge of something. I’ve disconnected lately. I purposely deactivated my account on Facebook, but I accidentally stopped talking to people on the phone as much. I’ve withdrawn into myself. I’ve been writing, taking notes, listening to lectures, reading and doing serious work on my book (which is really work on my self). The point has been to reconnect with friends in real life, to reconnect with my family, to reconnect to my inner work. There is so little free time in this life, and now I’m thirty-five, or nearly. So, I’m compelled to write. I’m compelled to get my “sixty seconds worth of distance run.” And I need the silence. I need the void and the solitude. I know I complain about it, it pains me so, but I need it, desperately, in order to write, in order to sort things out, in order to become. And it’s been welling up within me, surging to break free.
In addition to the book, I’ve been working on some essays for submission. One in particular is an essay about girls and the princessification and premature sexualization of girls in our culture. I’m rather obsessed with this lately because of the damage I’m already seeing in my girls and the realization of the damage that was done to me. Writing this has led me to discover movements of powerful women to reclaim our girls. I’ve done this all with the self concept that I’m just writing about it, I’m just following, I’m not a leader. I listened to some TED talks by Eve Ensler, and I just kept thinking, she’s so amazing. I’d love to be like her and lead a movement to strengthen girls around the world. I’d love to do something that would make a difference. But, alas, I’m just me, the woman with the blog no one reads. I’m just the recovering missionary kid with my sad story. I’m just the chubby woman who is always trying to lose weight. I’m just a series of failures. I’m not her. I’m not a somebody.
As I’ve been going back through my memories and attempting to write my story, it’s like I’ve been mending a fishing net. Each event a little knot in my story. Each regret a tangled mess I’ve got to untangle. Each painful memory a break that I’ve got to pull back together and mend with new knots. I’ve been carrying this net around with me. I’ve been packing up my story, all the little knots of my existence, and I’ve been piling them on my back. I carry it around, take it down to do my work, then pile it back on, all the regrets, all the pain, all the days. It makes it difficult to enter new spaces, new situations, when you’re carrying so large a burden, so immense a story, so much of yourself. I squeeze through doorways. I apologize for myself. Excuse me, it’s just I’ve got this giant net I’m carrying. Sorry for the inconvenience, my story is taking up all the room.
Yesterday, I was talking with my mom on the phone. She had called to chat but mostly to discuss my rage against princesses. She said to me, “Heather, you have to remember, it’s not wrong, it’s just different.” A small tether snapped and the weight of the net shifted. “No, mom, it’s wrong! This culture of beauty and the objectification of women, it’s wrong. And it starts early. And my life has been ravaged by it, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand by and let it ravage my girls.” She was quiet for a moment. “Well, you just want to be careful not to be disdainful of people who like princesses.” Rage swelled inside me. The weight of my life, the heaviness of this giant net I’ve been carrying, began to be too much to hold while I was also trying to stand tall, feel the strength of my righteous indignation, the knowing of my truth. “You’re right, mom, I shouldn’t be disdainful because people are lost in this culture as much as I have been. My job is to help them see. The culture needs to change.” I pictured myself loving people, pointing them in the right direction. I felt sure. “Heather, you can’t change culture.” The final tether broke. I staggered around, struggling to hold my burden, trying to listen to my mother and listen to my own voice. I felt all of these brave women within me, their voices, their strength.
And suddenly I realized, I am one of those women.
And I set my burden down.
And I put my dukes up.
“Mom, culture can change. It takes bravery and strength and conviction. If people had not stood for their rights women would still not have a vote, black people would still be sitting at the back of the bus. Culture can change. And I want to change it.”
I’m so afraid of writing my story and hurting my mom and dad. I cling to the truth because of what I think it might do, afraid to let it go out into the world. Anne Lamott tweeted the other day, “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” I love my mom, and I know she means well. But I don’t have to be afraid of disagreeing with her. I can’t keep carrying my story around with me out of fear that the truth will hurt them. It’s my story. It’s my burden to set down. I don’t have to keep carrying them around, wrapped up in my net.
Because, I am not my mother. I am not my past. I am not all the crazy voices I have believed. I am not my mistakes. I am not a mess of knots. I am not a burden. I am not a child. I am a grown woman with strength and conviction and voice. And I don’t have to keep carrying all that around. The net is mended.
All this time, the fishing net has been my burden and I’ve forgotten its purpose. A fishing net is not to be carried. It’s to be let go, cast out, released. It’s to be opened up, unfurled to the open water. A net is not for carrying. A net is for receiving.
Maybe my husband was on to something.
Maybe the weight I’ve been carrying is my story.
Now, maybe I need to throw it out and see what gifts it will bring.
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