I read “The Things They Carried” with my lit students yesterday (well, with the ones who showed up, anyway) and was reminded of how visceral and present that story can be. O’Brien is deft and effective in his storytelling, and I was moved, yet again, by this multi-layered, thought-provoking war story.
O’Brien tells his story though the description of the things that a platoon in Vietnam carried with them during their experiences of this war. Very rarely – in fact, only once – does O’Brien actually describe the character of the men; instead, he tells us who they are and what was important to them by describing the things they thought were important enough to bring with them into battle – and the things they had no choice but to carry – and the respective weight of these things; the weight of ammunition, the weight of memory, the weight of rations and responsibility.
In homage to the tale, here are ten things that *I* carry with me as I make my way through my world.
1. I carry my wedding rings and the promises that they represent. My marriage is the single most important thing in my life, and I am never without the physical representations of that relationship. I carry with me a deep and abiding respect for my husband, as well as a profound and unspeakable love. For the magnitude of the commitment and responsibility, the weight is effortless and I will happily carry it for the rest of my life.
2. I carry my cell phone. The gadget represents much more than my ability to stay connected at will with anyone, it also represents safety, information (I have an iPhone, and thus can access internet and maps and music and…) and reliability (I would be a wreck without the calendar feature).
3. I carry my children. Not literally, of course, but they are an inexorable part of who I am and are integral factors in how I make decisions. I want to be a good model for them for a kind, compassionate, considerate, capable woman, and it’s because of them that I make many of the choices that I do.
4. I carry my driver’s and teaching licenses. The driver’s license is predictable – I’m betting you all carry one of those – but I tucked the little card that came with my teaching certificate in my wallet because it represents an accomplishment that I was never quite sure I’d reach until I was almost there. Which leads me to…
5. I carry a tiny but nagging insecurity. I’ve not quite managed to fully silence the monsters of my past, and every once in a while a little voice escapes from the closet to tell me that I’m just kidding myself and everyone around me. The only thing that voice doesn’t demean is my acting abilities, it seems, for it tells me now and again that I’ve got everyone fooled. I’m getting better and better at ignoring the voice – and the more I ignore it, the quieter it gets – but it’s still there.
6. I carry my friendships. Most of the time, this is an easy burden to bear – I have wonderful friends who give me far more than I feel I give in return – but sometimes I find myself carrying this load a bit too heavily. I’m still working on negotiating the place a few friendships have in my life; I’ll get the weight settled eventually.
7. I carry a sense of justice, and that I am part of a larger whole. This is a hard one to describe without coming across as all airy-faerie, but part of my yoga practice involves my recognition that I belong here – that I have a right and an obligation to participate fully in this life – and that my actions, words, attitudes and behaviors matter to more than just my immediate circle. I try to be mindful of the kinds of ripples I start in the pond, and try to make sure that the energy I send out reflects the highest and best I have to offer. I speak out when I see injustice – I will not sit down and I will not shut up – but more than that, I try to always be aware of what I may be doing, however unintentioned, that may be perpetuating an injustice.
8. I carry stories. Song lyrics, novels, films, short stories, t.v. episodes, poems; I continue to amass a library of experiences that I can bring to bear on my life, and that I use to make sense of the world around me. I love to think and talk and argue and ruminate about stories and what they mean beyond the plot, and I carry a respect and admiration and affection for the people who engage my thinking about stories.
9. I carry a love of language and a curiosity about its use. I carry a desire to continue to learn – I am shamelessly greedy when it comes to knowledge; I can never have enough. I carry the two-sided belief that I am both incredibly smart and never smart enough; that where I am right now is pretty darned good, but that I can always be more and better than I am right now.
10. I carry a sense of joy and love and compassion and kindness. I want the people around me to be at ease in my presence. I want people to think kindly of me and to be happy to see me. I want to be aware of the little things that I can do to make others feel appreciated, important, and cared for. I carry with me an awareness that, every day, I can do or say something – even if it’s just a smile – that will register positively with someone else.