The two girls walked down the path in front of me.
I thought they were sweet.
They were carrying a medium-sized duffle bag. It didn’t seem very heavy, but each girl had a handle. They walked in tandem, step by step, sharing the load. I remember thinking, “Two adolescent girls wouldn’t be very likely to walk like that back home.”
I had only been living in Slovakia for a few days at that point.
I thought the shared burden was a one-time thing.
Then the next day, they were doing it again – walking down the path, each holding a handle. I thought to myself, “Those must be two compassionate girls.”
A few days later on my walk through the snow to school, I saw two teen-aged boys doing the same thing.
Sharing the load.
A week later, I saw two grown men, walking through the city center, each carrying the handle of one large suitcase.
It took me a while to realize sharing the load was a cultural thing – something not a part of the life I knew in the U.S.
Here we take pride in carrying the load on our own.
Even when it’s too heavy.
Even when doing so serves no one well.
Even when someone offers help.
Upstanding Americans tend to insist, “I can do this by myself. I can carry this burden alone.”
Call it an independent streak.
Call it strength.
Call it foolish.
Bearing a burden alone when others are able and willing to help is not good sense – whether it’s a duffle bag or something less tangible like two kids and a spouse out of the picture. Lugging a heavy bag or other burden on one’s own doesn’t improve anyone’s circumstance.
Even young Slovak girls realize walking down the road beside someone and not sharing a load is not good sense. Sharing the burden makes life easier for everyone involved.
Since I lived in Slovakia, I’ve traveled to many other places and paid a lot of attention to the way different cultures handle carrying things. In Africa, I was amazed at how many items of all shapes and sizes people were able to carry on their heads. I saw many people walking down the street with suitcases on their heads, perfectly good handles hanging to one side or the other. After I got over my amazement, I realized carrying things on one’s head was a much more ergonomic, healthy-back conscious way to bear a load.
Then I went to China and Thailand and saw people sharing the burdens of heavy loads dangling from sticks they carried on their shoulders.
The places we come from remember, but somewhere along the way, we Americans have forgotten how to carry things. With the exception of our adolescents’ filled-beyond-capacity backpacks, we generally lean to one side or the other when we haul our burdens.
And, we do so alone.
Yet, we pay a price, beyond aching shoulders, for such independence of spirit.