50: Basket Case

50: Basket Case

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Basket Case

Fear can keep us up all night long, but faith makes one fine pillow.

~Philip Gulley

With one house-shaking thud, my life shattered. My husband Jerry lay dead on the bathroom floor. The rest of the day was a blur of EMTs, doctors, teary-eyed friends and family who trickled in from out of town. I made it through the funeral and the holidays in a fog.

Then all went quiet. Everyone went back to their lives, yet I could never go back to mine. I longed for the blessed numbness of those first few weeks.

I tackled the laundry, hoping the whir of the machines would fill the silence. As I carried three weeks’ worth of dirty clothes to the utility room in the house I could no longer afford, I tripped over the threshold where carpet met tile. The basket flew and the clothes tumbled, along with my brave façade.

I crouched on the floor, crying, as I gathered the strewn pieces of laundry. Each piece represented a burden I would have to carry alone — medical bills, legal papers, the for-sale sign in my front yard, the reality of Jerry’s lost income. I picked up a blouse I had worn on my last unsuccessful job interview. Into the basket it went. A table napkin reminded me I must downsize to a one-bedroom apartment and sell half my furniture. I wiped my eyes with it.

Then I saw it. One lone sock of Jerry’s, missed by good-intentioned family who’d bagged his clothes for charity. It screamed back at me that I must sell his truck as well as the power tools that crowded the makeshift workshop in the garage. More to add to my load. What should I do with his father’s coin collection? The deer rifles? His grandfather’s Stetson? The pile of wood he’d purchased for his next carpentry project and all the scraps from the last three?

Like my dirty clothes, the troubles piled up. I’d shuffled through each day as my basket of worries grew heavier and heavier. I felt overburdened with grief and stress. My back spasmed with pain. How could I possibly carry this load? To be placed in this situation was cruel and unfair.

I cried out loud, “God, why did you let Jerry die and leave me all this to handle myself?”

Then, for some reason, as I sat on the floor and hugged the toppled laundry basket, I remembered another basket long ago in the arms of a petite Hispanic woman.

I had been reading in the laundromat while my clothes spun in the commercial dryer. I looked up from my book. Through the window, I saw a small woman laboring to maneuver a heavy basket brimming with dirty clothes as she herded four small children towards the glass door. Two held bottles of laundry soap and bleach to their chests. In sympathy, I sprang to my feet and held the door open.

Her eyes widened. She froze to the spot, lips tight.

Not the reaction I expected. Had I offended her? Maybe she was used to doing things herself and didn’t want help. Perhaps she thought I was trying to leave. Did she fear I’d be upset that she blocked my path or was she angry because I blocked hers? We didn’t speak the same language, so I didn’t know how to tell her I only wanted to help.

A man came over and whispered to me. “She doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know you. She isn’t used to receiving help from strangers.”

He reassured her in Spanish, then took the laundry basket and set it on the folding table. She gave me a weak smile and nod of her head, but wouldn’t make eye contact. She gathered her brood like a mother hen and shuffled them inside. Though I’m not sure she saw my face, I smiled in return. I closed the door, fetched my dry clothes, and folded them into my basket. When I turned to leave, she looked up and nodded again. This time her eyes met mine and we exchanged smiles.

Our lives only crossed for a brief moment, yet now as a widow crouched on the floor with an overturned laundry basket, she greatly impacted mine. I too was burdened with a huge basket of things that stressed me. Anger and hurt weighed me down. Pride prevented me from asking for help.

Then it hit me. I envisioned God standing at the door, hand on the glass, ready to push it open for me. I made the decision to give God my laundry list of things to do each day. The heaviness in my soul lifted.

The next morning when I read the Bible passage in my daily devotional, I had to smile. Psalm 81, verses 5-6 said: “I hear in a language I had not known: ‘I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket…’”

~Julie B. Cosgrove

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