This Bag is So Heavy


I was on my way home from working today when I saw this homeless person in the middle of the road collecting money. I couldn’t tell if they were male or female, but only that perhaps they were very small and badly deformed. Both of the hands were palsied and one foot was as well. Walking was  extremely difficult,  as was holding the cup that they had in their hand to collect money. So I turned,  and  then made a U turn, hoping to catch the red light.  (Since they were north/south and I was going east/west.) I did. I watched the giant shiny SUV in front of me hand her a dollar bill. (The only other vehicle that gave anything at all.)  I already had what I was giving her in my hand and held it out the window of my 1999 car.  She came to me excruciatingly painfully slowly (it was a woman) (I am embarrassed that I didn’t get out of my car and go to her)  and I  placed a $20 in her cup. (Her hands were so palsied, she wasn’t able to grasp the money from the people herself, hence the cup.) When she saw what I gave her, she started to say, “Oh thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus.” And I lost it.  Totally lost it. (Just thinking about it is making me lose it again.) She then was struggling with her bag, the straps of which were hanging from her forearms, and said “This bag is so heavy.”, she said it more than once, “This bag is so heavy”  …..and I just nodded. I couldn’t speak and I was hoping she couldn’t see MY tears behind the sunglasses. It took me all the way home to compose myself.

I had just left an extremely wealthy place. Extremely. The contrast to where I had just been (working) and the homeless woman in the middle of the street was a shocking contrast.  I don’t have a lot myself. And there are things I need. A list of things, in fact.  But, you know what? I have more than a lot of people do.  I have a bed, I have food and I have a place to live and I have a car to drive and I can work. So I am grateful. And I can give.

It seems that any kind of act of kindness these days makes me cry, like a lunatic. And I was wondering why.  I’m still sitting here wondering why. I was kind and it made me cry, even, or maybe I was crying for her plight. Or for the ones who have so much or for  the ones who have nothing. I don’t know what made me cry.  Maybe my nerves are fragile these days. Or maybe it’s my heart. I was thinking of the quotes that say something about life’s experiences either making you bitter or cracking your heart wide open. And maybe that’s it. Maybe my heart is cracked. Maybe I’m cracked and damaged.  And maybe that’s not as bad as it sounds.  It’s been quite the year for me. I’ve experienced a lot of deaths in the past couple years.  I have experienced a lot of hate directed at me this past year.  I have been shunned. I have been worried that my own anger and grief  would consume me.  I have wondered if I will ever stop missing those who have passed. I have wondered if I would ever forgive those who were hateful.  But I think I realized today that my pain has caused my heart to crack wide open and I feel the pain of others much more than ever. I can’t turn a blind eye anymore. I can’t walk on by and pretend not to see. I can’t ignore things anymore. When you know what it feels like to hurt, you can’t pretend you don’t see it when someone else hurts. Maybe? I don’t really know. I don’t have the answers.

And it’s interesting, with everyone mourning Nelson Mandela and talking about the difference he made in the world. And I agree, he did. And he was a man who could have carried tremendous hate and bitterness but he didn’t. I suspect his heart  was  also cracked wide open.   I notice that people talk and admire these amazing people but then do nothing. Without action, all  words are meaningless. I’ve been disappointed to post things on Facebook for people with huge issues  who need help and only a handful of people will notice it and help….or even comment….I’ve often said that if you can’t help then at least send your positive vibes, how hard is it to say, “I’ll say a prayer for you” (or whatever you do.)  But we’re awfully good at just IGNORING stuff. And I don’t know why. And that makes me angry. But at the same time, I know that more anger is not what we need. Instead of ignoring things, let us strive to emulate one so great as Nelson Mandela even a little tiny bit in our own worlds.

I also signed up to  be a volunteer earlier this week.  I’m not tooting my own horn. I’m just saying. I did. Imagine what the world would be like if we all did just a LITTLE bit. All I HAVE is a little bit. But I can give something.  A little bit of my time. A little bit of my money. Even if it’s $1, $5 or $20. If everyone did SOMETHING, it would really add up.

I’ve had people say to me that things (situations that I’ve helped with) are not “my” problem. Yes, they are. If they’re not my problem, then whose problem is it? If I don’t help, then who will? That IS the problem. Everybody walking past with their eyes closed saying, “That’s not my problem.” 

So sing the praises of people like Nelson Mandela. He walked his talk.  He was a splendid example. He was an amazing man.  And then walk your talk. And when life gives you the choice to be bitter or to allow it to crack your heart wide open, choose the open heart.  To quote the words of Thompson Square:

Trying to live and love, with a heart that can’t be broken, Is like trying to see the light with eyes that can’t be opened. We may shine, we may shatter, We may be picking up the pieces here on after, We are fragile, we are human, We are shaped by the light we let through us, We break fast, cause we are glass.”   (

And it’s the holiday season. I can’t think of a better time to start than today. Don’t close down in bitterness and despair. Don’t close your eyes. Don’t walk on past and pretend that you don’t see. We all have something to give. Let’s stop talking about changing the world and actually DO something to create change.

“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other–not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future” ~ Nelson Mandela 
If we all help to carry the bag, it won’t be so heavy.


Kathy Lee 12/6/2013


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