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6 Hard Truths About Carrying Burdens

When I was living in Bangkok this past summer, I had the opportunity to visit Hanoi, Vietnam.

So I woke early on a Friday morning to hop on an Air Asia flight.

As I was waiting in the airport to board the plane, a 40-something-year-old Vietnamese woman asked me to carry one of her bags.

Trying to be helpful, I politely obliged.

Then I reached down to pick the bag up and to my complete shock…THE BAG WAS FREAKING HEAVY! Not just sort of heavy…REALLY HEAVY!

In broken English, she told me that the oversized duffle bag was stuffed full of books. Big, heavy books!

So here are a few things I learned that morning about helping people carry their bags. But also, some truths about helping people carry their burdens.

When I first said “Yes” to the lady, I thought it would be a simple task. No big deal and no sweat off my brow. I WAS DEAD WRONG! It was a big deal, and it was heavy. At first, it felt like I had been the victim of a con. Maybe I was. I broke a sweat, my arm hurt, and getting the bag into the plane’s overhead compartment safely was a monumental task.

This agreement to carry her bag connected us. I was now with her, and she was with me. We walked together. We rode the shuttle bus to the plane together. I needed to keep her in my sights…and she needed to make sure I didn’t run off with her bag of books. Carrying someone’s load is a bonding experience.

As I was struggling to get the bag in the overhead compartment, I could feel the glaring stares of people on me. I was holding up people in the aisle as I struggled with the bag. I was awkward and clumsy. I accidentally bumped the guy next to me as I did my Olympic dead lift to get the bag properly stored overhead.

I could just imagine what people were thinking. “Why didn’t that dumb American just check that bag at the gate? He is holding us up! He is going to hurt someone with that bag!” I wanted to scream out, “IT’S NOT MY BAG! IT’S NOT MY BAG! IT’S HERS!” But I kept my mouth shut and just dealt with it.

So technically I should NOT have been carrying her bag. It’s an airline safety rule. But she needed real help, and I wasn’t going to ignore her need because of some rule. I knew it wasn’t a bomb…it was books. Too many times, we are guilty of following the rules instead of just helping.

When I picked up the duffle bag, I instantly realized she was completely incapable of doing this on her own. Ain’t no way she is going to be able to carry this! She was helpless without some sort of assistance. I’m a 6′ 3″ male in fairly good shape, and I struggled. Physically, she was just the opposite. She was small and more on the frail side.

Sure, maybe the Air Asia staff would have helped her, but no one was stepping up to solve her problem. It was just me and her. Together, we could do it. Her doing it alone? No way!

So was my attitude perfect? Was I the model good Samaritan? Unfortunately, the answer is, “No.” At moments, I got a little irritated. A couple of times, I just wanted to give the bag back to her. I had done enough. Someone else could take it from here. When helping people carry heavy loads, frustration and the desire to give up are a reality. But don’t give up. Don’t bail on them.  

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Mike Foster leads an organization called People of the Second Chance which provides innovative strategies on failure and crisis. Mike also serves as the Creative Principal at PlainJoe Studios in Southern California. He blogs daily at www.POTSC.com and is @MikeFoster on Twitter.