Carrying the World on Your Shoulders

Photo by Jou00e3o Cabral on

Sitting here in my library, I notice a book my wife has set out on one of the mini-easels propped up on the corner bookshelf: The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise by Robert Cardinal Sarah. I have never read the book myself, but its title speaks volumes to me. Silence is a rare treat, a gift too easily overlooked. Even in this moment, my eldest children are gathered around the dinner table playing a game (Azul, I believe); I hear my youngest children through the monitor shuffling through Lego pieces while listening to an audio-book. My wife and mother-in-law are wrapping up a few things in the kitchen. I almost feel guilty sitting down to share these thoughts.

Far too often I live under the dictatorship of noise and the weight of responsibility. I carry the world upon my shoulders as a husband, a father, and a teacher, alone. I fear I am more like Martha, too busy to sit a Jesus’s feet like Mary because there are things to be done that are my responsibility. Once I finish all of the work, THEN I can sit and be still, listen, read or write. But I never finish all of the work.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” so they say. And I believe it. I’ve felt quite dull recently, hence my lack of posts. What do I have to offer thedeepeningground?

That’s where a chance click on an email I would have normally deleted led me to another poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. I have been teaching her poem “The Trashpickers, Madison Street” for years, but I had never read “Shoulders” until just last week. Potentially, it could put me on tilt, emphasizing the great burden of responsibility I carry not only for my own children, but also for every relationship within my circle of influence, and even the larger relationships between people in this world. However, it became a beautiful reminder of the gift of relationship and the rewarding responsibility of parenting. It kept me outside for an hour past completing the task of shoveling the driveway tonight so I could prepare an old freezer door for backyard sledding. I even took a few runs myself!

Whether you are a parent or not, may you draw near enough to “hear the hum of a boy’s dream.” It’s part of her invitation to deepen.

Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world's most sensitive cargo
but he's not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy's dream
deep inside him.

We're not going to be able
to live in this world
if we're not willing to do what he's doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "Shoulders" from Red Suitcase. 1994

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