As the new year dawned, The Walker came across an old woman carrying a massive collection of boxes. Some were gold, others were silver. Some were rainbow-coloured and others had ribbons flying from them.
Some boxes were so battered they looked as though they would fall apart if anyone hit them too hard. Others had tape over long rips and still others had knotted string linking them to other boxes, turning them into a chain. One or two of the boxes looked almost brand new, as though they had been gifts at a recent birthday party.
The woman looked weighed down by her load and The Walker was concerned. “Are you all right, old woman?” he asked.
“Well, I’m used to it by now,” she answered, “although I’m trying to work out where to put this new box.”
The Walker looked where she had indicated with her head and there was a silver box about six inches long and four inches wide. It was covered in paper and held together by glittery gold tape.
“Could you just tuck it under your arm?” he suggested.
“Well it’s alright at the moment but, in a couple of weeks, it won’t fit at all and then I’ll be finding a new place for it. It really needs a permanent home,” said the old woman, bent almost double by both the weight of her load and the awkwardness of the sheer number of things she had to carry.
The Walker didn’t understand but, in his concern for the old woman, offered to carry some of her burden.
“Oh no,” she laughed. “I can’t let go of a single one of them. They’re mine and I have to carry them.”
“You’re going to have to explain this,” said The Walker, “because I don’t understand.”
The old woman smiled gently. “Here’s a clue. I’ve just entered my 83rd year and this little silver box is my 83rd bundle. I carry the reminders of every moment I’ve lived in these bundles.
“The most battered are for the most difficult years and the shiny ones represent the good years. As each year progresses the box for that year grows – that’s why I can’t tuck this new one under my arm. It’s all my burden and I’ve carried them all my life.”
It was The Walker’s turn to smile.
“It’s a good job I came along. This burden has become far too much for you to bear but you don’t believe help is possible. What started out as a bit of an inconvenience has taken over your life. Sit down.”
The old woman looked puzzled. “How can I sit with all of these boxes on my back?”
The Walker reached out and lifted all of the boxes from her shoulders. “Sit there,” he said, pointing to a chair which had appeared by their side. The old woman sat and fell asleep instantly. Quietly, The Walker carried the boxes away and burned the lot.