Commentary: The carrying woman

She exited the subway at Kamiyacho station every weekday morning just after eight. Up the two flights of steps to the sidewalk above, down the street for two blocks. Then she disappeared around a corner. A Japanese woman on her way to work.

Except that across her right shoulder was the limp figure of a younger person. No visible movement from that shape. No position change. Garbed according to the season — rainy, hot, dry, or cold. Expressionless. An enigmatic pair.

I often asked others working in the area if they knew this woman’s situation. Office staff. Area retail merchants. My own department members. None had any explanation. But they knew who I was talking about. Translated into English, she was “The Carrying Woman.” In the prevailing culture, it was considered most unkind to inquire about such things. Any weakness — indeed, any special set of individual circumstances — was thought to be a matter of the utmost privacy.

Should a person stumble in a subway passage, tripped or jostled by the surging crowds, it was deemed extremely rude to offer assistance. One simply stepped across or around the fallen party, with eyes averted. Avoid controversy. Minimize embarrassment.

But I persisted as the days and months passed. Still no answers. Finally, while I was packing up in preparation to leave the country, a stranger came into my office. The explanation was straightforward. It was a mother and her child, disabled at birth. A victim of the shellfish-borne pathogens found in a seaside community that had experienced the spills of mercury-laden products from a manufacturing process into the local waters.

The mother had carried this child each morning from home for over 30 years to her own workplace. And then back again in the evening. She bore the burden in silence and without help. In fact, it was many years after the disorder found a cause, and then a name, that the government offered financial assistance to the disabled.

The image of that woman and her efforts is a hard one to displace. The love and sacrifice it represents are even harder to imagine. But these thoughts surface regularly for me, and especially at this time, the turn of the year, when we ask ourselves for resolution toward improvement, the strength to bear up under adversity, and the will to carry on.

We reflect this month on the ways to make Wilton a stronger community. On the roles we can play to move the town in directions that benefit us all. Toward mutually reinforcing goals and objectives.

And on a very personal level, perhaps we could ask ourselves if we can imagine the burdens that so many carry in silence, the obstacles they must overcome each day, and the efforts they must expend in order to protect and care for immediate family or friends. Imagining the extent to which an individual is weighted down is one thing. Finding a path to assist is quite another.

Linking together a stronger set of community members makes the entire networked group tighter and more cohesive. That in turn sends signals throughout that there is help available, that there is something or someone else to share the load beside one’s own shoulders, and the ability to mount the concrete steps. We are fortunate in Wilton to have resources and facilities for just this purpose.

To all who align with our TASC mission for a better town, and who recognize the individual strengths possessed, endured, or needed, we offer that most courageous of images for contemplation in the new year  — The Carrying Woman.

TASC stands for Toward A Stronger Community. Information: