He had carried the bag for so many years, he couldn’t even remember what was in it. He wasn’t sure he had ever known. But there it was, a huge sack packed full of something, strapped to his back, fused to his skin, part of him. Sometimes he forgot it was even there, he had gotten so used to the weight. At other times, though, the bag seemed so incredibly heavy, as if he were being crushed under a massive boulder, his face in the dirt.
Those times when Sam forgot about it, those were the best times. People would ask, “Why are you so slumped over?” Of course he wasn’t really slumped over; they didn’t know what they were talking about! He was perfectly fine, standing up straight as an arrow, wondering what was wrong with everyone else who was walking all bent over. Yes, those were the best times, the times when he could deny that he carried it.
But oh, when he felt the weight of it and each step was a struggle beyond words, those times were the worst. No matter how hard he tried, he could not get his mind off the sack, its contents weighing him down. He thought once that maybe he should take a look inside that bag, just a peek to see what he had been lugging around. But he had heard about other people who had done that, just took a look inside their own bags, and it scared them so badly, they lost their minds. Went completely nuts! And he had heard frightening stories of the excruciating pain suffered by those who tried to have it removed by questionable sounding methods. No, he wasn’t about to give up what little sanity and comfort he had left just for curiosity’s sake. So he continued trudging hopelessly along.
One morning after yet another fitful night’s sleep, Sam awoke with a peculiar feeling. Something was different, in an uncomfortable sort of way. More uncomfortable than usual, at least. He lay there curled on his side, nervously wondering what was happening to him. He shifted on his bed, rolling first to the left, then to the right, unable to get comfortable in any position, and certainly never on his back. He began to sweat — tossing, turning, kicking off the blankets, stripping off his pajamas. So hot, so unbelievably hot! Frantically, he grabbed at the sack, tried to tear it, to jerk it free. It was stuck, painfully stuck. It hurt when he tugged on it, like someone was yanking off his skin. He couldn’t possibly remove it himself. He would have to get help. But from whom? Where?
Just then he remembered a girl he had met a couple of years back. Something was really different about her, something that was obvious when he first met her. She didn’t have a bag! She didn’t slump over! She had told him that she used to have a bag, one very much like his — huge and very heavy — and black, like one of those lawn trash bags. She said she had carried hers since she was a little girl, and that her parents had them, as well as her brothers and sisters. In fact, everyone she had known at the time carried those ugly black bags around. She didn’t know that some people weren’t burdened by them, so she didn’t know it was possible to be free of hers. That is, until she met a certain man…
Sam tried to recall what the girl had told him about that man. Why didn’t I listen to her and heed her advice? Who was he? Where was he? How can I find him? God help me. Then he remembered. The man lived across the river, on the pretty side of town, but Sam had heard that the man would come back across whenever someone invited him. And that he would stay around wherever he was welcome, encouraging those he had freed and setting others free. Sam had to find this man. He hurriedly dressed and headed in the direction of the river.
As Sam trudged along, trying to run but unable to, he searched his brain to recall what else the girl had told him about the mysterious man. She had said some pretty bizarre things, things Sam didn’t understand, and frankly wasn’t interested in at the time. But now, oh now, he wanted nothing more than to understand them, to meet this man and get rid of his bag.
There! There he is by the river! Looks like he’s talking with someone. Sam watched in amazement as the man gently lifted a bag from the back of an elderly woman. Strange, she didn’t even act like it hurt—and the man didn’t even act like it was heavy. Who is this man? Sam wondered in astonishment.
Sam approached the man while he was still talking with the old lady. When the man raised his eyes toward Sam, he smiled brightly and said, “Hello, Sam, I’ve been waiting for you.” Sam was too stunned to take another step! He hadn’t told anyone he was coming here today. And how did this man know his name?
But when Sam looked into the man’s eyes, it seemed they pierced Sam’s very soul. And that this man must know everything about him. Then came one of those moments when he could feel every ounce of the weight on his back, every crushing ounce. No denying it now. Sam fell to the ground with his face at the man’s feet, his arms and legs splayed, his body exhausted. Then he felt a touch–the gentlest, most compassionate touch he had ever felt. He lifted his head and turned it slightly to see what was happening. It was the man and he was removing the bag from Sam’s back! Sam heard him whisper, “You don’t need this anymore. When we are done here, I will dispose of it for you and no one will ever see or remember it again.” Then the man reached down and grasped Sam’s arms, lifted him up, and planted his feet firmly on a large rock. For the first time Sam could remember, he wasn’t slumped over. No pretending this time! He was really standing straight!
But then the man looked into Sam’s eyes again and spoke. “Sam, let’s go through this together.” And with that, the man began pulling things out of the sack. Each time he grasped something and exposed it to the light, an incredible thing occurred. It disappeared! In the hands of this man, one horrid, foul-smelling piece of refuse after another shriveled up and vanished before Sam’s eyes. Finally, after a lifetime of trudging around under its weight, he felt the absence of the bag not only physically but in every other way. And he knew he would never carry it again. He could only begin to imagine the joy of such a life.
Then the man spoke again. He said, “It’s time to go across the river.” Sam glanced to the river, his eyes scanning up and down the banks. “But there’s no bridge! How do I cross?” While Sam was still speaking, the man lay down across the river, his feet on one side and his head on the other, his arms extended straight out from his sides. He called to Sam, “I am the only way across the divide. On the other side, there are no bags or packs to carry. Everyone there lives in peace and freedom. But you must know, it is a one-way trip. There is no going back to your old way of living. You do not want that bag back nor do I want you to carry it any longer. Come, Sam. Come!”
Sam didn’t understand everything about what was happening or even why. All he knew was that he used to be smothered under a heavy load and now he was free from that burden. And he owed his very life to the man who so gently and lovingly took the burden from him.
So he took that step and crossed the river into a new land of joy and freedom. And whenever the man asked Sam to help free others from their burdens, Sam happily assisted, for he knew what it was like to be weighed down. And now he knew what it was like to be free.
Janice Powell 2013