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Ain't Heavy? Really?


A song written by two relative unknowns, one of whom was dying of cancer, was recorded by a wide variety of artists over the last number of decades. The Hollies. Glen Campbell. Olivia Newton-John. The Osmonds. Joe Cocker. The song wove its way into “hip” worship services and many a youth group gathering. The words are remarkably inspiring. Even beautiful. And pretty much Jesus-like. “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” was apparently the simple response of a young boy in a movie titled Men of Boys Town released in 1941. The movie was a sequel to Boys Town which was inspired by the Catholic priest who founded the community bearing that name in Omaha, Nebraska in 1917. Father Flanagan witnessed a boy carrying a younger child who had difficulty walking and the legacy of The Two Brothers was born. [He Aint Heavy | Boys Town]

All of this is literal, of course. We readily think of rescue workers carrying people of all ages through flood waters, out of burning buildings, from the rubble of a battered house. Images of soldiers heroically hauling wounded comrades out of the line of fire come to mind as well. “His welfare is of my concern, no burden is he to bear… He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” There may be occasions when we carry another person financially, helping him or her get established after a difficult experience like divorce or unexpected major surgery. But sometimes, instead of physically or financially, we lug one another around emotionally. Our concern for another’s wellbeing can be burdensome for us. It can weigh us down. It’s heavy. Really.

One challenging load we might experience as we journey through life is estrangement. And not just spouses from one another. Adult children distancing from, no longer speaking to, parents. Neighbors withdrawing from each other over a misunderstanding. A lifelong friend foreclosing on the future because of political differences. Relatives cutting family members off from communication due to disagreements over the handling of elder care or an estate. Members of an organization (even religious organizations) embattled in power struggles. And it’s all heavy to bear. Really heavy.

The words of the song are beautiful. The reality even more so: “If I'm laden at all I'm laden with sadness that everyone's heart isn't filled with the gladness of love for one another.” That’s definitely Jesus-like. And a burden worth bearing.

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