Bear One Another’s Burden

Little did I know as a kid when I was learning to read how valuable that skill would be.  Because I grew up on an Indiana farm, I never went to kindergarten.  I guess the kids in the town near where I grew up went to kindergarten, but I hardly knew any of them, so I never asked.  I’m not sure what good it would have done.  I was not going to kindergarten anyway.  So I began school in the first grade.  So did everyone else I knew because it was a rural school.  Times were different then.
   
All this is to say, I’m not sure when I actually began to read.  Of course, my two daughters were reading before they went to kindergarten and the same is true for my grandkids.  Times are different now.  All I know is reading has been such a gift and wonderful skill.  I cannot imagine not being able to read.  Probably most of the knowledge I have comes from things I read.  Of course, wisdom comes from experience, but if you don’t know anything, you won’t get very wise.
   
And so I read widely.  I actually have a habit Bear One Another’s Burden
of reading things that may not look interesting.  Why would I decide impetuously not to read something because I don’t like the title?  Why would I only read in areas that I am “interested in?”  Of course, I could learn some new things, but it would still be in a fairly narrow range.  For example, I now have three books co-authored with my business buddy.  Why would someone who does religion hang out with a business friend and write books?  It has been a fascinating journey and I am not the same for having done it.
   
And so it was that I recently hit the title in a periodical called, “Pallbearing, like life itself, carries weight and risk.”  Why on earth would I continue to read a piece on pallbearers!  As someone in the religion field, I have done my share of funerals.  I have been to the funerals of my own parents, grandparents and, even, brother.  I have seen hundreds of pallbearers---and been one myself.
   
I have read some stuff before by the author of this article, Melissa Musik Nussbaum and I like what she does.  So I read on.  The focus of the article is on her mother-in-law’s death at ninety years of age.  However, she opens the article by commenting on how modern funeral homes for the most part have taken over the function of pallbearers.  I like her tongue-in-cheek explanation.  “I understand their preference for this practice. It's efficient and neat and safe.  You have a cadre of trained pallrollers who've had lots of practice with the transfer and movement.  It fits the goals of any business: do the work as fast and efficiently as possible while avoiding risk. But it's also brought the mechanics of business into that most human act of dying.”
   
But her mother-in-law did not want professionals.  Her detailed instructions demanded that her ten granddaughters be the pallbearers.  That is a simple request, but it did not fit the funeral home professional’s idea of a good idea!  Almost comically, the family was told the granddaughters “could be pallbearers, but that they could not bear the pall.”  The professionals expressed concern the “girls” might “waver or stumble and drop the body?  It wouldn’t be safe.” I can only imagine what my two daughters, who were athletes and are now mothers, would say!
   
I’ll spare you the details of the story’s end, except to say a compromise was reached.  What I did enjoy the most was Nussbaum’s concluding reflection which focused on community.  Adroitly, she concludes, “When we live in community we carry one another, we bear one another’s burdens, we lift one another up.  It’s risky.  Sometimes we fall together and rise together.  But there are always hands, reaching out, reaching up, holding, holding on.”  This is a wonderful description of community. 
   
To live in community is to lift one another up.  We do this and we have it done unto us.  It happens with regularity and with frequency.  And then finally, it happens one last time at the end when the pallbearers take us on home.  This is the final bearing of the burden.  But along life’s way we bear each other’s burdens.  The scary part of today’s society is how many people want to go it alone.  They think they are strong, independent, but they are only crazy.
   
Community is the sign of sanity---the hope of love and the assurance of faith.  Of course, life is risky.  Risk is what makes community the wonderful crucible for risk-taking.  Sometimes we do fall and do fail.  But true communities forgive and bear up.  I really like how Nussbaum uses the image of hands.  There are always hands.  Hands reach out.  Hands reach up.  Hands hold on, but she makes it a verbal noun---holding on, holding on.
   
The pallbearers use their hands.  Their hands reach out and take hold of the casket.  The hands lift up the casket and begin the walk, all the time holding on, holding on.  The pallbearers symbolize the community.  A single individual cannot be a pallbearer.  It is a communal undertaking.  Through life and on to death’s home, we are carried.
   
And that is the message of the Spirit.  As the Spirit bears us along through life, we are to bear one another’s burden.

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