Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Porter

"Sir, may I take your bags?"

I was startled by the voice, thinking myself alone in the crowd. The speaker was a young man with elder eyes; muscular, with calloused hands. His porter's cap was pulled down close over short hair, prematurely white. He came up beside me and, with a smile, held out his hand, as if to take one of the heavy cases I carried.

"There is no need," I said hastily. It was getting late--I had no time to stand and argue with a porter. Besides, I was afraid to let my cases out of my hand. "I can--I must carry them myself."

The porter nodded as if in agreement, but he asked again, "Sir, may I take your bag?"

"It is out of the question," I replied, my voice rising in irritation. "There are things here I dare not let out of my hands. Now, please, let me go--I have a long ways to go and these bags are rather heavy."

"If they are, then--sir, may I take your bags?" There was something weird in his repetition. My first thought was that he was stupid or deaf, but he looked at me with eyes that were sharp and sane. And then he added, "What do you have that is so valuable you may not let me carry them?"

"It is not value," I said hastily, for I did not want him to think I doubted his honesty. "What I have in these cases is not worth a cent to anyone else, but they are all I have. No one else can carry them."

"Perhaps; perhaps not. Sir, may I take your bags?"

"You do not understand," I protested, growing more impatient. "I have carried these cases for years, bringing them safely over many miles. I have all my past in these bags."

He smiled at me still--and still held out his hand as if to take the cases.

"Still, you don't understand," I repeated. And goaded by his strange insistence, I began a strange and shameful inventory. "Here in this bag I have two math tests I failed in seventh grade--I could have passed them if I had studied harder. And here is a heavy folder with every name I was called in school, all carefully noted and alphabetized--I don't know why; I remember them all well enough. Here is another file with the things I said in return; nearly as thick. Here is a lead case full of the fragments of broken promises--most of them mine, though not all. Here is a bottle filled with a child's tears--tears that I caused with a thoughtless word."

The porter seemed oblivious to all I said. "But, sir, may I--"

"And here," I cut him off, almost frantic now in my rhapsody of unplanned revelation, "is a file or two of painful conversation, heavy with annotations of all the things I should have said. And here are two boxes filled with unfulfilled dreams and one with unanswered prayers. There are three packets of undeserved slander, along with another packet of deserved slander. Here is a failure, there a sin; here an undeserved reproach, there an undeserved compliment; here a disappointment, there a regret. I must carry them all, for they are all I have. Now let me pass."

And the porter only looked at me with a smile and said, "If that is so--then, sir, may I take your bags?" And he reached out again with his hand, a hand I now noticed was strangely scarred and pierced. And then he added: "I am used to carrying burdens."

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