Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The burden


The words slipped out of his mouth with seeming ease. They were spoken before I could stop them. “Of course you love your son, but I can’t imagine the burden of living with him.”

He was attempting empathy. He was trying to understand my life. But he had it all wrong. Though I was surprised by his words, I didn’t respond. Perhaps because of my silence, he thought I hadn’t heard. He said again “I can’t imagine the burden you carry. All the work.”

He couldn’t imagine my life. I understood that. Fair enough. Perhaps I wouldn't understand his life either. It can be hard to understand a life you haven’t lived.

I watched him shake his head again saying once again, “all the work, the burden of it all” and then trailing of. In total he used the word “burden” four times, making it clear he saw only sadness in my son’s existence. I smiled politely, responding, “I don’t see Sam that way.”

I thought about his words after he left. About how someone, without ever meeting Sam, could sum up his life into the single word: burden.

If I thought he would have understood, I might have partly agreed. Sam IS a lot of work. He had that right. I would have then suggested most everything worth doing requires effort. Most of life’s achievements, large or small require work.

I might have pointed out the difference between the words “work” and “burden.” I might have said I look at our life with a sense of satisfaction. That we are in a good place, that there is joy in our life, joy in our home.

I don’t think he would have understood.

There was a time when his viewpoint might have crushed me; when I would have felt compelled to argue Sam’s worth. A different viewpoint no longer defines us.

A single word does not define Sam. 


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