“They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.” – The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

My AP seniors have been reading The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien over the last three weeks.  Teaching the book has brought forward two very major revelations for me:

  1. Stories are our paths to our past. They keep those who have left us alive- not in body, but in spirit.
  2. We all carry so much more than we realize- both tangible and intangible.

Through the course of reading this powerful book, I have stopped to ponder the things I personally carry.

  1. My Aggie ring- a symbol for the countless hours I spent studying and reading and at Northgate with friends and standing during every second of Aggie football games and bleeding maroon and giving t-sips the horse laugh and beating the hell out of our opponent that week and sharing my love and pride for all things Texas A&M
  2. My engagement ring- beautifully designed by my husband and presented on Thanksgiving Day 2009 and blessed in the church on December 4, 2010 forming an unbreakable bond between the two of us ’til death do us part
  3. My two wedding bands- one to represent each of our daughters
    1. Aubrey Murl’s with simple, yet stunning diamonds in orderly rows to match her desire for everything to be according to her plan
    2. Maycee Jo’s with an alternating pattern of round and rectangular diamonds to showcase her big personality that changes with the wind
  4. My wallet with too many credit cards and not enough cash
  5. Sometimes I carry a backpack with me to school filled with everything I need to be a good teacher:
    1. Mechanical pencils
    2. Student papers- some I have graded, most I have not
    3. Annotated copies of what we are reading in class currently
    4. My laptop and charger
  6. Other times I carry an Anna and Elsa backpack with diapers, wipes, and snacks…all the snacks.
  7. The book I’m currently reading- you never know when the opportunity will present itself to turn a page or two
  8. My cell phone in case of emergencies- like when Maycee decides dinner is taking too long at the restaurant and needs a distraction from her screaming.
  9. The lipstick or lip gloss I am wearing that day…and the one from yesterday and the day before.
  10. My sunglasses- when I remember them- because the Texas sun is brutal all year long.

Beyond these tangible items I carry on the daily lie the things I carry that people can’t see.  These are the things that weigh so much more than the physical things I carry, and these are the things that make me who I am- even if some of them are pretty tough to carry.

  1. Mom guilt of whether I am making the right choices for my girls- like the choice not to force my two-year-old to stop sucking her toe or my four-year-old to sleep in her own room.
  2. The haunting loss of our first baby
  3. Sadness that none of my grandparents were alive to see me marry the man of my dreams
  4. Memories of my childhood that fill me with nostalgia that hurts because I can’t ever go back in time
  5. Regret that I didn’t follow my earliest dream into the world of fashion
  6. Embarrassment that I use technology to entertain my girls when I just need a break.
  7. Fear that my parents will not be here forever, and that I haven’t said all I want to say to them yet
  8. Stress from the tiring efforts I put into teaching my students in the best way I know how, all the while worrying that it isn’t enough
  9. Frustration that nothing is ever “done”—there is always something else to do
  10. Immense pressure to not make mistakes—or even worse, not to learn from them

However, the beautiful thing about life is that while I could focus on the heaviness of these burdens I carry with me everywhere I go, I could also focus on the things I carry that warm my heart with love and fill my soul with joy.  Those are the things I gladly carry daily to lead a blessed, fulfilled life that has surpassed my wildest dreams.

  1. The forgiving and unconditional love of my Lord, Jesus Christ who sees in me imperfect perfection- even when I fall asleep in the middle of my nightly prayers
  2. Thoughtful gestures from my loving husband who has only wanted one thing in the twenty years he has known me- my happiness- even when I complain and whine about my day more than I should
  3. Hugs around the neck and squeaky “I love yous” from the two girls who give me worth and purpose- even after I have put both of them in timeout seven times in a row because my patience have run thin
  4. Protection and guidance from my loved ones in Heaven who watch me daily with pride and compassion
  5. The passionate thirst for knowledge that keeps me reading, writing, and searching with fury and ferocity
  6. A foundation so strong in genuine love- modeled by my parents and siblings who have stopped at nothing to stand behind me every day of my life
  7. Laughter and smiles from my circle of friends who keep me grounded and choose me time and time again, even despite my faults and flaws
  8. Words that float around in my head and spill on the paper allowing me to cope, process, and share
  9. Pride in watching my former students, but forever kids, march into their futures with vigor and confidence, finding their own voices and taking the world by storm
  10. Confidence in knowing that my life has been one filled with many more good times than bad, and gratitude because I am one of the lucky ones
  11. Excitement for what the future holds—brilliance and brightness shining from the numerous blessings coming my way

I hope that you will take the time to read the book by Tim O’Brien about the soldiers of Vietnam and the worlds they lived in before, during, and after the war.  It is such an important book not only to understand the war and soldiers who fought in it, but also to understand humanity and why we must continue to read and tell stories.  While you read it, I encourage you to stop and ponder the things you carry- both tangible and intangible- and search for a newfound appreciation for the life you have been given.

And so I leave you with this quote from The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien:

“…and for all the ambiguities of Vietnam, all the mysteries and unknowns, there was at least the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss for things to carry.”

 

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. Print.

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