A lovely co-worker teacher-friend calls me MP. She says I am like Mary Poppins with a bottomless carpet bag of treasures. I’ll admit I am rather a bag lady, always the turtle shell on my back full of all that I need. An extra change of clothes, make up, granola bars. The weather could change. Here, take this umbrella. Matthew may need a super hero mask. Abbie will want that other phone charger.
I carry a bag because I want to be prepared, because I am afraid of missing out, because I want to have what it takes in the moment. I want to be what people need, to fix things for them.
It’s impossible to be prepared for everything. Some things take you by surprise, and you have to hold on to something. That’s when a big bag like that comes in handy, doubles as a blankie, a comfort item when all else is chaos.
I know what it’s like to need things, so I want to help if I can. The problem is, most problems are not fixed with things. I need a deeper bag. A real MP bag would hold a whole canoe to float away on if you ever needed to. It would have the right pot of teatime to mend lost friendships unresolved, the right token of hope to help the grieving, the right songs to sing for healing. Where can I get that bag? I long to carry people’s cares so they don’t have to.
It’s going to need to be a very big bag. I’ve gone through many trying. My shoulders can attest to that.
Delving into people’s stories is a lot like reaching into that Mary Poppins bag. It’s messy, unpredictable. You reach in for the answers, for that Babysitter’s Club Kid Kit that will solve and occupy and meet the needs of the moment, but it’s rarely there when the stories come rolling in. There isn’t a band-aid big enough for a broken family, for addiction, for neglect. I’ve looked for the heartiest heart salves only to go home, bag empty.
At times you wish the bag were big enough to crawl into, but no handbag is big enough to hide in. It’s ironic, I suppose, that I’d like to live inside my turtle shell of treasures sometimes. At first I want it for all of the right reasons… to help people. Then I want to run from people. Their stories are too sad, too hard, too vulnerable. But so are mine. I’ve met very few fellow turtles who carry others’ stories, even fewer who want to know me well enough to see the inside of the shell. Vulnerability feels too raw, too much like the stuff others ask you to carry. You know what that feels like. You couldn’t possibly ask them to help you carry stories in their shells. Yet somehow a shared story is not a 40 pound weight to some. They can store it and no one is worse off. As it turns out, the stories we carry on our backs are the only ones worth telling, and telling our truths can make the journey lighter.
Stephanie Platter is a teacher, writer, film critic, and coffee-lover who loves nicknames like “MP” and who is eternally grateful to her crazy talented sister Abigail Platter (abigailplatter.com), who designed the featured artwork for this piece.