The things they carried were largely determined by necessity.
What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly of field specialty.
They carried catch-as-catch-can.
What they carried varied by mission.
If a mission seemed especially hazardous, or if it involved a place they knew to be bad, they carried everything they could.
On ambush, or other night missions, they carried peculiar odds and ends.
The things they carried were determined to some extent by superstition.
Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak.
For the most part they carried themselves with poise, a kind of dignity. Now and then, however, there were times of panic, when they squealed or wanted to squeal but couldn't, when they twitched and made moaning sounds and covered their heads and said Dear Jesus and flopped around on the earth and fired their weapons blindly and cringed and sobbed and begged for the noise to stop and went wild and made stupid promises to themselves and to God and to their mothers and fathers, hoping not to die.
They carried the sky.
They carried their own lives.
The above are all quotes from Tim O'Brien's book, The Things They Carried. When I first began to ponder last week's Hump Day Hmm-er, this book immediately came to mind. I flipped through the book looking for a quote--one quote--to use and so many of O'Brien's sentences seemed to be metaphors for Life. In my Life backpack, I carry with me the basic necessities: faith, family, friends. I carry some things according to my specialty/rank of motherhood. I carry odds and ends, peculiar to some, that I have picked up along the way (fanatic faith in Myers-Briggs Temperament theory, just to name one).
Like the young men, O'Brien describes, I hope I carry myself with poise and dignity, at least some of the time. I have known those moments of panic, though, when I have cried out to God and flopped on my bed (instead of the earth) and made moaning sounds.
I realized along the way that the soldier metaphor is imperfect, though, as I thought about all the things in life you have to let go. (Coincidentally, this week's roundtable topic was just that: how do you let it go?) And while O'Brien says that the soldiers "would often discard things along the route of march," it isn't always so easy to discard our emotional baggage, as necessary as it might be to our welfare.
If only it were.
Even when we manage, through perseverance and hard work, to overcome a major obstacle in life, you still carry the memories of it. It may still determine choices you make. I'm not sure it ever truly leaves you.
Perhaps then, it becomes more about finding a way reduce its size and weight enough so that you can pack it in with everything else you need and want to carry with you, leaving you free to continue your journey in Life.