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"We each hold our world on our shoulder and we are each still GroaningUp …"

The Greek God Atlas held the world on his shoulders, a curious career choice. I suppose world holding's necessary work, but necessary of the sort that someone else should do. It's a utility position, one with little self-promotional possibilities, offering no leave and little potential for advancement. It's maintenance work. Though Atlas is usually depicted wrapped in swaddling clothes, I imagine him dressed in J. C. Penney khaki work clothes and Red Wing work boots, like the janitor at my grade school wore, for he, too, inhabited the nether region of my world, down where the coal furnace belched heat and the teachers fled to smoke. The place everyone knew was there but nobody spoke about.

I later came to understand that Atlas' story served as an allegory for the all too human condition, for each of us holds a world upon our shoulders.
The world we each know would slip into some blackhole abyss if we didn't show up for work every day, and reliably leaves wherever any of us go permanently away. At first, the world seemed more balloon than burden, I bounced it like a rubber ball through my childhood. Once I started accumulating responsibilities, though, it gained mass, and I sometimes faltered in my stewardship, feeling unequal to my task. Falling in love seemed to gassify the old planet, lightening my burden. Remorse and rebuke both seemed to turn it into lead. Whatever I've accomplished in this life, I mastered it while balancing this damned blue ball, an apparently necessary inconvenience, on my shoulders.

I groan more explicitly when I stand now. Yard work, accomplished while carting around this now pandemic-infested encumbrance, seems either a little or a lot more effort than it once seemed. Most mornings, I manage that first concerted squat thrust to bring that teetering thing to my shoulder, audibly groaning, then proceed on my way. Some days, I balance it on the headboard while wondering whether I can actually muster another rising. The effort, which some characterize as world-changing but I'd contend amounts to world-sustaining, doesn't always seem worth my considerable trouble. I do not seem to have grown stronger for my extended effort, either, but seem to groan ever more emphatically as time progresses along.

I suspect that I will meet my end the morning that I can no longer defend continuing my humbling contribution. I remain steadfastly aware of my critical role even when nobody else seems to comprehend that I'm the one carrying The World around on his shoulders. I sometimes, beneath my personal burden, forget that I'm not in any way special, that every one of us holds precisely the same obligation, to balance this place on ever more overburdened shoulders. Ginger Rodgers might have managed to make every move Fred Astaire ever made, but backwards and in heels, she also balanced a precarious world on her shoulders while so doing. That clown zipping past me on the right and changing lanes without signaling might have just been especially distracted by his burden at that moment. Attentions understandably waver.

My most generous possible interpretation of the ineptness I've witnessed in response to our pandemic remembers to include the Atlas Factor into my sometimes overly harsh judgements. While we seem to reliably forget the lessons our grandparents struggled to instill in us (while also balancing their own worlds on their own increasingly creaky shoulders), we might have understandably been distracted by our own balloons and rubber balls, the support of which we had not yet come to consider our one true calling. They then seemed little more than amusing distractions and not the seeds of our life-long obligations. We had not yet experienced the gravity of our situation and had not yet risen to carrying the great challenges we faced. We had not yet envied anyone wearing utilitarian J. C. Penney khakis and Red Wing work boots who hosted teachers aching for a smoke in that over-heated space beside the coal furnace. We each hold our world on our shoulder and we are each still GroaningUp beneath the burden of it.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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