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The Burden

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The Burden

Sandy gets a visual reminder about 'letting go'

A few weeks ago, a man came walking through Sandpoint carrying a cross. I don’t know much about him, but I know this. He was headed east, a pilgrim for Christ, I would guess, by the shape of his load. At the intersection north of Sandpoint, he took the road less traveled, Highway 200. He made the 35-mile walk along the lake and up the Clark Fork to Montana in two days.


The cross he carries is made of two softwood four-by-fours held together by lag bolts. Since he began his walk, wherever that was, he has worn the lower end of the long leg of the cross off and replaced it by lagging a new piece on. At the juncture of the four-by-fours, silver duct tape holds a small foam pad in place, a spot for him to shoulder his burden. I know this because, when he got to Montana, he left his cross leaning against a roadside reflector post next to my driveway.


There is a lot of symbolism in a wooden cross. Most people who live in our culture react to it in one way or another. The Ku Klux Klan, for some perverted reason, uses the symbol to show their ignorance and intolerance. If you think about that long enough, it makes you dizzy from the lack of logic. There is no connection between the two, if the cross symbolizes the life and death of Jesus. I don’t think Jesus was racist. In fact, if you can believe what you read about him, Jesus was a big advocate of tolerance for different cultures, a man ahead of his time.


When I found that cross on that Wednesday evening, being curious, I went out and took a look at it. The tracks the man had left with his Vibram soles led me to the conclusion that he had come to my gate, and for whatever reason, put his burden down and just kept walking. The cross was still leaning there the next morning, so I figured I had come to the right conclusion.


I liked that idea; that when we are ready to, we can lay down our load and just keep walking. In fact, I rejoiced in the thought that he had picked my driveway for the site of his epiphany. I need that kind of reassurance to assist me in laying aside my own burdens.


The hard part is getting ready to put them down, getting detached from all the weight we carry around, the load that holds us earthbound, keeps us from flying. We have to give up the fears that keep us isolated from the rest of the world, the ideas that we have been loaded up with since the first time it was pointed out to us that someone else is different from us; worse, better, worse off, better off, smarter, stupider, uglier, better looking, faster, slower, a different color.


Of course, we are all different. The human race is the most interesting species on the planet because of our diversity. Looking into the faces of a crowd is a study in difference. In each set of features is a story very much like a lot of other stories, but also unlike any other. Stretching out behind each face is a somewhat visible line of ancestors, contributors of noses, ears, cheekbones, eyes, hair, skin, smiles and even wrinkle patterns. If we could see those lines of ancestors stretching back into time, we would see that the lines are convergent toward a common point, way back there somewhere. We would also see that the lines are braided, twisted, plaited together like rope. Our commonality is undeniable, even in our differences.


Reflected in each face is our own personal burden, and our own intolerance is part of the load. We carry it on our back like so many rocks and it keeps us from having a spring in our step. It is fear, pure and simple, and fear is as heavy a load as can be picked up.


The morning after I found the cross at my driveway, I left for a few days and when I came home, the cross was gone. I assumed the highway department had picked it up, but I found out I was wrong. My brother, who lives 30 miles east of me, told me he had seen the man carrying his cross through Thompson Falls. It seems he had only laid aside his burden for a while. My guess is that he went though my place down to the river to rest and wash himself and prepare to go on.


He who left his load at my front gate for a small while is packing something other than that cross, I’d guess, but I doubt I’ll ever know what it is … specifically. Generally, I would guess it consists of guilt, anxiety, worry, shame, confusion, anger, angst and fear; all the normal parcels we humans gather up and carry around. And, somehow, I would guess, they are taped to that cross, riding his shoulders across the West.


I wish him well. I thank him for reminding me to leave the cares of the world at the gate when I get home. I wonder what he is shedding along the way, what he is laying down in the ditch to dissipate behind him.


I hope he comes to a place, maybe out in the open on the other side of the Divide on some long, shimmering stretch of road where he can see all the way to Heaven, and realizes his burden is completely his, and that he gets to decide what to keep and what to throw away.


Then, I hope he lays down that cross and flies away home.

Sandy Compton’s newest book, The Friction of Desire, will be available at area book stores as well as at www.bluecreekpress.com on August 1, 2012.

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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

Tagged as:

The Scenic Route, cross, letting go, burdens

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