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the invisible bag

I’m alone at the airport. A rarity.

I’m often alone, but usually it is in solitude, never surrounded by so many people.

I’m an observer by nature. I love watching people; the interactions, the facial expressions. And in an airport my curiosities awaken even more. Maybe it’s all the movies I’ve watched that have romanticized the comings and goings of travelers, but here today, I’m watching and wondering, “What is their story?”

A young twenty-something staring into a screen as if his life depends on it, with a twitchy, nervous leg bouncing along to some unknown rhythm. I can almost see his mind saying, “Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up.”

The elderly travelers lined up in their wheelchairs ready to escape the North and head south. They are seemingly content to sit and wait, and only move when someone else decides to push them towards their destination.

The mom of a rambunctious toddler whose legs are propelling him around and around the terminal. He squeals with delight as if he is winning in a game of tag. As she tries to contain him, you can see that she hopes this burst of energy will exhaust itself by the time they load onto the contained space of the airplane cabin for the two hour flight.

What is their story? Why are they here? Where are they going? Are they happy to be traveling?

I start to notice something else, a weariness amongst some of them. I can only see their eyes since most of their faces are covered in masks. With red rims or laugh lines, vacant stares or sparkling connection, eyes can tell a story on their own. And, usually, they speak the truth.

I can see the weariness starts in their eyes, but it’s also in their body, in how they are carrying themselves. Some of them look like they are carrying more than the luggage for their travels. A hardship? A weighty decision that has to be made? Or is it something else?

All of us carry an invisible bag. A bag of worries, anxieties, and fears.

Some of us have a small, wallet-sized bag filled with these worries, anxieties and fears. Since it only holds a small amount, you don’t have to take with you every day. Even if it’s filled to the brim, it’s still small enough that you can forget that you have it with you. It’s easy to hold, and easy to put down.

Others carry a medium-sized saddle bag, strapped across their chests, the size of a brief case. These carry quite a bit more of the worries, anxieties and fears. You can feel their weight, but if you adjust it just the right way, you may forget that you are wearing it. And you can set it down, but you have to pull the strap over your head in an intentional act to remove it from your body.

And then there are some who carry the big bag: the toddler-sized hiking backpack that covers your back and towers over your head. This thing is full and it is heavy. The weight of it can knock you off your feet if you’re not balanced correctly. Your stance changes, your gait changes. And this one you cannot set down easily. You have to sit, or get on your knees, to properly unlatch the buckles and remove all of the straps. This one you don’t forget. This one you have to carry with you at all times.

The size of the invisible bag changes over the course of our life. Usually, the size of the bag is not your choice. And it can change sizes at any moment, varying from a wallet to the hiking backpack, and all the sizes in between.

Some of us carry two bags. One bag with all of our own worries, anxieties and fears, and one bag for the person we are caring for. Some people call us “unpaid caregivers”, but really we are carriers.

A diagnosis, a chronic illness, an accident…something changed in our life and now we carry the bag for someone else, along with our own. It doesn’t matter if you were already carrying the hiking backpack. Now, because of situations beyond your control, you are carrying two bags. If you’re lucky, both bags are small, wallet-sized, easy to hold and easy to put down.

At this point in my life, I carry a medium-sized saddle bag. My son carries the hiking backpack. Every minute, of every day, for the rest of his life. And so I help him.

As a carrier you learn what to do. You do not stand in front and pull along the one with the heavy bag. You do not stand behind and push them through life.

You stand beside them, ready with an outstretched arm, room on your back, and in your heart, to carry whatever it is they need you to carry.

You carry the fight, when they carry the pain.

You carry the medical information, when they carry the exhaustion.

You carry the calm, when they carry the chaos.

You carry as often, and for as long, as they need you. And you hope and pray that because you stand beside them, because you help them carry their load, that you are helping to make their life a bit better. That they get to a point where:

They carry hope.

They carry laughter.

They carry a joy for life that is so intense it’s infectious to those around them.

And they make the world a better place, simply by still being in it.

For a carrier, this is all we hope for…more time with the ones we love.

Carriers come in all ages, all socio-economic groups, all races. Some carry for years, while others for only a short amount of time. Some carry in secret, and you’d never know the heavy load they are under until it is no longer there.

All of us carry an invisible bag of worries, anxieties and fears. Some of us carry two. As I see the weariness in some of my fellow travelers, my fellow humans, I wonder, “Are they like me? What are they carrying?”

I pause. I breathe. And I look at them.

I hope they can see the softness in my eyes, the camaraderie, the compassion. I hope they know they are not alone,

and that they are seen, carrying the invisible bag.


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