Lightening Our Burdens

Recently, a 14-year-old in Michigan carried his younger brother on his back for 40 miles. The younger brother (Braden) is afflicted with cerebral palsy, and his big brother, Hunter, wanted to bring awareness to the disease while trying to raise money for medical research. Over the course of two days, the brothers completed their journey, which they called the "Cerebral Palsy Swagger."

A cynic might look at this and say, "So what? What did the kid prove? His little brother still has cerebral palsy, and he didn't even raise that much money."

I am not a cynic. (I admit to occasionally being cynical, but I am not a cynic.) These brothers accomplished quite a bit. The younger brother was not simply "along for the ride," but an active participant. There is something about him that moved his older brother to do this in the first place, but the younger boy also had to make sure he kept his brother comfortable, encourage him, and make the trek as easy as possible. He was an inspiration, champion, and a cheerleader.

The older brother dared to be bold in his love. He was willing to carry his brother for 40 miles (think about that: forty miles!) because he wanted others to notice the toll a disease had taken on his brother's body. He set aside his own comfort to literally bear his brother's burden.

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of co-authoring a book with Jeff Sandefer, an entrepreneur and educator from Texas. The book is titled, A Field Guide for the Hero's Journey. We wanted to give practical advice on how to live a heroic life, using classic literature and our own experiences to illustrate what such a life might look like.

One of the topics in the book is about choosing companions for our lives' journey. If we want to live a good, purposeful, creative, and brave life, whom must we surround ourselves with? I recounted this story from a time when I was studying in Italy, staying at a monastery:

One day in the garden of the monastery, where I was reading, I notice two elderly ladies making their way through the flowers, negotiating the unsteady cobblestoned path, pausing from time to time over this or that flower or cluster of greenery.

As I watched them I realized something amazing which I might have missed if there were distractions: One of the ladies was rather badly crippled, and while she was able to walk, it would have been very perilous on the unsure footing of the garden. The other woman was a bit younger, and steady on her feet; but she was blind.

Together, they experience a lovely Italian garden that neither could have negotiated alone.

A burden shared is a burden lightened. Like any truth, it is deceptively simple, but utterly complex. We are too often afraid to share our troubles and problems with others. Perhaps it is pride that keeps us from sharing; it may be that we think we're being a nuisance. We also fail to reach out when we see others in distress. We tell ourselves not to intrude, or that we couldn't possibly be of any real help. The brothers, Hunter and Braden, know such thinking for what it is: a folly, a lie, a sham.

Christ Himself tells us: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." (Mt. 11:29-30) It is easy to believe that the yoke we share is a burden. Hunter and Braden Gandee can tell you: there is nothing burdensome about sharing our trials, asking for help and being willing to carry another's problems. It is the way our lives are intended to be, and is it truly the only way for us to live lives that are good, purposeful, creative, and brave.

Rev. Sirico is president and co-founder of the Acton Institute.