• Change my razor blade.
• Cut my fingernails.
• Wash the sheets.
• Call the piano tuner.
• Get a haircut.
• Turn the calendar page.
Yes, it’s September 1st and a good time for personal housekeeping, those little cycles of maintenance that the turn of the month can remind us to attend to. And so as I flipped that calendar page, I read its quote of the month:
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else.” – Charles Dickens
There’s a thought worthy of September, especially for teachers greeting kids back in school. It reminds me of the lyrics of that old 60’s chestnut by Mimi and Richard Fariña:
“If somehow you could pack up your sorrows, and give them all to me.
You would lose them, I know how to use them, give them all to me.”
Would that it would be that simple! We can certainly help others carry them for a bit, like a kind stranger helping someone with a too-heavy suitcase taking it off their hands for a few blocks. But ultimately our sorrows and burdens are ours alone to carry. Indeed, the roots of the word suffering are the Latin “sub”— from below— and “ferre”— to bear. Thus, we bear up from under the weight of suffering, lift it and carry it in our particularly way and grow stronger from the effort. Alcohol, drugs, video games, obsessive work, etc. are all short-term strategies and only end up increasing the load.
But since everyone equally is bearing a burden, despite their trying to hide it under our “have a nice day!” veneer, it means we’re actually all in this together. The fantasy that everyone else is having a Pepsi moment and our burden is wholly ours is both a lie and not useful. So why not think about how you can help lighten other’s burdens— and your own as well.
That’s what I’m thinking of when I play Bach’s Partita No. 6 or Gershwin’s Embraceable You on the piano at the Jewish Home for the Aged. Help the listeners forget their pained bodies and confused minds and ease them into the soothing bath of beautiful sounds that transport them somewhere where all burdens are set down. That’s what I hope for when I listen seriously to someone describing what’s weighing them down and then offer the perfect words that makes them laugh and disperses the heaviness. Sometimes sharing the weight calls for a deep tissue painful massage, sometimes a gentle loving stroke. Whatever it takes. There is no foolproof formula, just acknowledging that we’re all the walking wounded and we all, as Bill Withers suggests, sometimes need someone to lean on.
So alongside my clean shave, cut fingernails and hair, clean sheets and tuned piano, these are good thoughts to welcome in September. May we all be useful to each other.