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the paper bag story

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In The Faith Club, an earlier recommendation, Priscilla tries to explain her “tribal” connection to Judaism and its turbulent history.  Her father, she says, used to tell this story to address the challenges people face in life:

“Imagine this,” he used to say to us.  “Take your problems, all of them, from the tiniest, annoying concerns to the most horrific, difficult challenges, and put all those problems into a brown paper bag.”  He’d pause.  “Then imagine if everyone else in the world took all of their problems and put them into their own paper bags.  Think of how many bags there would be, all piled up into one gigantic mountain of brown paper!”  The image was vivid to me.

“If you were told that you could pick any bag of problems and take it home with you, do you think you’d want someone else’s problems?”  my father would ask.  “I don’t think so.  You’d be scampering like crazy to find your own bag in that mountain of brown paper.” 

Toward the end of his life, after his business had failed, his fortune was lost, and the pain of his terminal disease was so bad he’d begun taking morphine, I asked my father, “So, if you had it to do all over again, would you still want your own brown paper bag?” 

My father didn’t hesitate.  “Absolutely,”  he said.  “Yes.” 

Through her father’s illustration, Priscilla gained the courage to believe that she might be strong enough to face her own paper bag full of challenges. 

This simple story triggered a tumbled mix of emotions for me.  As I obsess over the news about the economy, our industry, and how it affects us, I realize that I’d take my measly paper bag over anyone else’s.   I would scamper like crazy to claim back my problems, because with them come so many blessings.  We’ve been given so much more than we have earned. 

Another addition to my list of gifts:  my own bag of problems. 

What about you?  Would you take back your paper bag?

Quote from The Faith Club:  A Muslim, a Christian, A Jew–Three Women Search for Understanding, by Idliby, Oliver, and Warner, pp. 89-90.
 photo credit: NoahA
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3 comments to the paper bag story

  • I bought The Faith Club about a year ago and it’s been on my ‘to read’ shelf ever since. I really must get to it.
    The answer to your question is yeeesss, I would probably pick up my own paper bag again. The reason for the hesitant yes (at least I hope that’s how it came across!) is that I sometimes think our own problems can be a bit of a comfort blanket for us.
    So I would add that I would pick up my own bag again so long as I knew I could learn from it this time.

  • pam

    Good point, Tess. And I’m sure it depends a lot on how severe our troubles have been. I’ve lived a blessed life, so it would be relatively easy for me. This story helped me remember to stop dwelling on what minor problems I might have.

  • Wow, I love the idea of putting one’s “problems” in a paper bag, literally or metaphorically. Like some of the stuff I pick up mindlessly at the grocery, the junk in my brown bag is disposable and some of it is silly.

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