When I entered the mall this week, I headed straight for the down escalator, as my appointment was on the lower level. Coming up the escalator at the same time was a woman carrying a few shopping bags. As she approached the top of the escalator her largest shopping bag began to rip. It started near the handles and as she tried to juggle the other packages to free up her hands to save the large bag from spilling, the bag let go. Her purchases spilled out. Luckily, she had arrived at the top of the escalator, and with no one behind her, she and I easily gathered up her things. The bag was not salvageable, so she had to make due, leaving the mall with her arms full of her purchases.
I’ve thought of this brief encounter several times this week.
If we stop in any mall and just watch the people passing by, we can notice people with all kinds of shopping bags. I enjoy trying to guess what’s in the bags; not the exact things, but in general. I always wonder what they are carrying. Some carry just one little bag. Some have a million little bags, each from a different store. Some have a large bag, that they might fill with smaller ones. Some are heavy and some look light. Some are plain, and some look like they were taken right out of a Hallmark movie.
Every one of us carries shopping bags. Some days they are filled with treasures; things that are light and easy to carry. When we carry bags like these, our load does not burden us. Rather our bags are filled with plans and dreams, or wonderful memories we hold dear.
Other days are bags are heavy. It’s hard to even get to the car, bus, train or plane with them, and they certainly don’t fill us with energy or wonder. In fact, sometimes we cannot even find a place to put these heavy bags down. We carry them around all day and night, finding it hard to get any relief from the carrying.
Still other days our bags are neither feather-light or lead-heavy. Instead, they are simply overflowing, even splitting open with things falling out.
It’s impossible to tell just by looking how heavy any one of these shopping bags really is. It would be easy to think that those who carry those small pretty bags have no trouble at all lifting and carrying them. It’s equally easy to prejudge someone with a ripped bag, things spilling everywhere, imagining that they too are like their bag – kind of out of control and overburdened.
In truth, we have absolutely no idea.
This year is no different from any other. Everyone is carrying around invisible bags. Some are heavy, some are light, some plain, some pretty, some too much, some not enough.
In our family, we will be carrying a new bag this year. We don’t quite know how to carry it. Our nephew, Anthony, was taken from us far too young this past summer. It’s a difficult time of year to carry the contents of this bag. My sister, Mary, Anthony’s mom, was telling me that she had been out for a walk one evening this past week and ran into an older couple from their neighbourhood. She sees this couple often and over the years has spoken to them many times. They asked Mary if it had been their son who had passed away. They had seen the obituary in the paper. Mary replied that yes, it was Anthony. They then told her that they too had lost their adult son, his wife and their two small children in a car accident twenty-nine years ago.
This couple has been walking around with this precious package for many years. No one would guess what they carried in it. Mary had no idea, but it took very few words for them to understand the weight of each others burden.
Meanwhile, here in Alberta, Ben and Andy spent the day with us on Friday. Ben, who misses very few details, noticed a brown Amazon box in my office. He wondered aloud who it might be for. I explained it was for a little boy who comes from a family who doesn’t have enough money for many toys. He knows about this family we help each year. Then he spotted another package. Again, he asked. That one is for Grampa, I told him.
I could see some worry starting to creep in. Finally, he said, ‘It seems like there are a lot of packages here, but none are for me.’ I smiled and told him that in fact, there are several packages here for him but I’ve hidden them all, so he doesn’t spoil the surprise of Christmas. The worry in his face eased.
This is the tricky part of this blessed season. It’s important we continue to find the joy of the season and celebrate its simple wonder. It’s important to help the children in our lives feel the magic of the season. But we will also notice people at the top of escalators, at our place or work, or in our own families, needing a hand to just manage all their shopping bags and packages. And at the same time, we understand that many people carry heavy, heavy, packages. Most often, these packages are completely invisible to us. We have no idea. Even when we do know what is being carried, it’s impossible to carry those packages for them.
What we can do this season is simply notice packages, those both visible and invisible. We can ease up on our judgement. We can avoid adding to peoples already full bags. We can walk beside. We can notice ways to help and follow through. We can smile. We can have compassion. We can spend time. We can be kind. We can love.
May your packages be light this week, and may you find time to ease the weight of those carried by others.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘I wonder what’s in that shopping bag?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups and has expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to gently watch for heavy shopping bags.