Sheila Walsh tells a poignant story of her son wanting to leave home at the tender age of six. Evidently he set out with his backpack and jacket, heading toward a pond near home. She, wanting to allow freedom but aware of his young age, kept a watchful eye from a window where she could ensure safety as well as give him his independence. After a short time he was back at the door, offering no explanation other than a six-year-old going on sixteen response of “It’s good to be home!”
Later that night as she was tucking him in, she brought up the adventure and asked him about it. His response was matter of fact “I would have gone farther but my backpack was too heavy”.
As I listened to her, I was overwhelmed by the truth in this retelling of the story and a child’s simple comment. When I would go farther except my backpack is too heavy – the things I carry too weighty. My kids and their lives with the confusion and sorrows; friends I know who are aching from pain, some that can be spoken and other that can’t; patients I have known and sometimes lost; worries and fear about the future and regret about the past – a backpack too full of ‘stuff’.
It’s all mixed together with the good stuff so I’m not always sure what the good stuff is. Sort of like my kids backpacks at the end of a semester, where a mashed up moldy sandwich, an apple, and crushed Cheezits are crumbled up together in what used to be a brown lunch bag, but mixed in with this is a perfectly good juice carton and packaged granola bar. Instead of sorting through, I throw all of it away.
I’ve always thought that the primary lesson to this story was the heavy backpack preventing him from the joy and distance of the journey. If I just lighten my load I would go farther, make more of an impact and be freer to serve. But the symbolism goes farther.
This little six-year-old knew exactly where to go to remember who he was and drop off his backpack. He knew the way Home. He knew that Home was light, and love and Mom. He knew that there would be no condemnation, just warm chocolate chip cookies, cold milk and a listening heart. He knew that at home he could rest and move forward, his burden gone. He knew home was a place to be reminded of who he was.
So as I think about the times I turn around because the backpack is too heavy I hope I have the sense of a six-year-old who goes back home, because the back pack was too heavy. I hope I can go back to where I am reminded of who I am, take out some of the load and journey on.