I lost a dear friend on Sunday. She left us too soon with much left to accomplish in her life; yet I know that divine timing does not always align with our own understanding. In this week of grief and mourning, all of us who loved her have come together and unified our hearts to build one another up.
“Bear one another’s burdens,” said the Apostle Paul, “and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Whether you view the Bible as holy or not, every moral creature can appreciate the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And the admonition to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Many of us experienced loss this past weekend due to the series of devastating tornadoes in our area. In the course of a day, neighbors and friends lost family members, homes and livelihoods. Monday felt like a fog. But by Tuesday, I began to step outside of my personal grief and shock and notice the collective community’s burden in the wake of the storms.
All around me, people were organizing efforts to support those who were struggling and hurt. My son’s preschool had a drive for supplies and food for families without power or transportation. My daughter’s elementary school did the same. Extra helpings of grace and kindness were being doled out in small interactions, and it was catching. Even while grieving my friend, I regained a sense of joy and purpose by bearing the burdens of others.
There’s a misconception out there — one that I have often fallen prey to — that if you are bearing your own burden, you simply cannot bear anyone else’s. Now I am all about self-awareness and taking care of your mental and emotional health, believe me. But experience bears witness to the fact that in carrying someone else’s burden with them, your own burden grows lighter.
Have you ever been having a tough day and seen people smiling and pleasant? Sometimes that just makes you feel worse. “Of course they’re happy - they have no idea what I’m going through.” But try having a tough day and running into someone having an even tougher one. Talk about a wake-up call. Suddenly your own stressors pale in comparison, and you find that simply reaching out a hand to someone in need was all you needed to stand up straight again.
For those of you grieving or bearing the burdens of a recent loss or devastation in your life, I see you. I really do. You are not alone and you are not invisible. If your pain feels too heavy, try lifting the load off of someone else’s back and see what happens. For me, it has been a saving grace this week.
Natalia Naman Temesgen is a playwright and professor of creative writing at Columbus State University in Columbus.