Bearing Burdens

Descent into Hell*, by Inkling Charles Williams is a strange tale reminiscent of the atmosphere in George MacDonald’s Lilith or Phantastes
It’s about selfishness, love, the reality of the eternal and the spiritual, and, of course, about the surprisingly easy, but nearly always selfish, ways we descend to hell.

In the story, Pauline Anstruther has been terrified by poetry- upon reading the following lines by Shelley:

Ere it shall be told. Ere Babylon was dust,
the Magus Zoroaster, my dead child,
Met his own image
Walking in the garden.
That apparition, sole of men, he saw.

…she has been haunted by a fear of meeting herself.  She confides this fear to the poet Stanhope, who offers to take the burden of her fear for her:

She said, still perplexed at a strange language : ‘But how can I cease to be troubled ? will it leave
off coming because I pretend it wants you ? Is it your resemblance that hurries up the street ?’

‘It is not,’ he said, ‘and you shall not pretend at all. The thing itself you may one day meet–never
mind that now, but you’ll be free from all distress because that you can pass on to me. Haven’t you
heard it said that we ought to bear one another’s burdens ?’

‘But that means—‘ she began, and stopped.

‘I know,’ Stanhope said. ‘It means listening sympathetically, and thinking unselfishly, and being
anxious about, and so on. Well, I don’t say a against all that; no doubt it helps. But I think when
Christ or St. Paul, or whoever said bear, or whatever he Aramaically said instead of bear, he
meant something much more like carrying a parcel instead of someone else. To bear a burden is
precisely to carry it instead of. If you’re still carrying yours, I’m not carrying it for you–however
sympathetic I may be. And anyhow there’s no need to introduce Christ, unless you wish. It’s a fact
of experience. If you give a weight to me, you can’t be carrying it yourself; all I’m asking you to
do is to notice that blazing truth. It doesn’t sound very difficult.’

But it is, oh, it is.  I wish I knew how to bear others’ burdens some way, to lighten their oh, so heavy loads.

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