Short Stories

Valley of Tears (The) by Hannah More

 

The Valley of Tears
A Vision; or, Bear Ye One Another’s Burdens

by Hannah More


Once upon a time,  I thought I set out upon a long journey, and the place through which I travelled appeared to be a dark valley, which was called the Valley of Tears. It had obtained this name, not only on account of the many sorrowful adventures which poor passengers commonly meet with in their journey through it, but also because most of these travellers entered it weeping and crying, and left it in very great pain and anguish. This vast valley was full of people of all colors, ages, sizes, and descriptions. But whether white, or black, or tawny, all were travelling the same road; or rather they were taking different little paths which all led to the same common end.

Now, it was remarkable, that notwithstanding the different complexions, ages, and tempers of this vast variety of people, yet all resembled each other in this one respect, that each had a burden on his back, which he was destined to carry through the toil and heat of the day, until he should arrive, by a longer or shorter course, at his journey’s end. These burdens would in general have made the pilgrimage quite intolerable, had not the Lord of the valley, out of his great compassion for these poor pilgrims, provided, among other things, the following means for their relief:

In their full view over the entrance of the valley, there were written, in great letters of gold, the following words—

BEAR YE ONE ANOTHER’S BURDENS

Now, I saw in my vision that many of the travellers hurried on without stopping to read this inscription; and others, though they had once read it, yet paid little or no attention to it. A third sort thought it very good advice for other people, but very seldom applied it to themselves. They uniformly desired to avail themselves of the assistance which, by this injunction, others were bound to offer them, but seldom considered that the obligation was mutual, and that reciprocal wants and reciprocal services formed the strong cord in the bond of charity. In short, I saw that too many of those people were of opinion that they had burdens enough of their own, and that there was therefore no occasion to take upon them those of others; so each tried to make his own load as light, and his own journey as pleasant as he could, without so much as once casting a thought on a poor overloaded neighbor. Here, however, I have to make a rather singular remark, by which I shall plainly show the folly of these selfish people. It was so ordered and contrived by the Lord of this valley, that if any one stretched out his hand to lighten a neighbor’s burden, in fact he never failed to find that he at that moment also lightened his own. Besides, the benefit of helping each other was as mutual as the obligation. If a man helped his neighbor, it commonly happened that some other neighbor came, by and by, and helped him in his turn; for there was no such thing as what we call independence in the whole valley. Not one of all these travellers, however stout and strong, could move on comfortably without assistance, for so the Lord of the Valley, whose laws were all of them kind and good, had expressly ordained.

I stood still to watch the progress of these poor wayfaring people, who moved slowly on, like so many ticket-porters, with burdens of various kinds on their backs; of which some were heavier, and some were lighter; but from a burden of one kind or other, not one traveller was entirely free. There might be some difference in the degree, and some distinction in the nature, but exemption there was none.

THE WIDOW

A sorrowful widow, oppressed with the burden of grief for the loss of an affectionate husband, moved heavily on; and would have been bowed down by her heavy load, had not the surviving children with great alacrity stepped forward and supported her. Their kindness after a while so much lightened the load, which threatened at first to be intolerable, that fine even went on her way with cheerfulness, and more than repaid their help, by applying the strength she derived from it to their future assistance.

THE HUSBAND

I next saw a poor old man tottering under a burden so heavy, that I expected him every moment to sink under it. I peeped into his pack, and saw it was made up of many sad articles; there were poverty, oppression, sickness, debt, and, what made by far the heaviest part, undutiful children. I was wondering how it was that he got on even so well as he did, till I spied his wife, a kind, meek, Christian woman, who was doing her utmost to assist him. She quietly got behind, gently laid her shoulder to the burden, and carried a much larger proportion of it than appeared to me when I was at a distance. It was not the smallest part of the benefit, that she was anxious to conceal it. She not only sustained him by her strength, but cheered him by her counsels. She told him, that “through much tribulation we must enter into rest”; that “he that overcometh shall inherit all things.” In short, she so supported his fainting spirit, that he was enabled to “run with patience the race that was set before him.”

THE KIND NEIGHBOR

An infirm blind woman was creeping forward with a very heavy burden, in which were packed sickness and want, with numberless other of those raw materials, out of which human misery is worked up. She was so weak that she could not have got on at all, had it not been for the kind assistance of another woman almost as poor as herself; who, though she had no light burden of her own, cheerfully lent a helping hand to a fellow-traveller who was still more heavily laden. This friend had indeed little or nothing to give; but the very voice of kindness is soothing to the weary. And I remarked in many other cases, that it was not so much the degree of the help afforded, as the manner of helping, that lightened the burdens. Some had a coarse, rough, clumsy way of assisting a neighbor, which, though in fact it might be of real use, yet seemed, by galling the traveller, to add to the load it was intended to lighten; while I observed in others, that so cheap a kindness as a mild word, or even an affectionate look, made a poor burdened wretch move on cheerily. The bare feeling that some human being cared for him, seemed to lighten the load.—But to return to this kind neighbor. She had a little old book in her hand, the covers of which were, worn out by much use. When she saw the blind woman ready to faint, she would read her a few words out of this book, such as the following:—“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” These quickened the pace and sustained the spirits of the blind traveller; and the kind neighbor, by thus directing the attention of the poor sufferer to the blessings of a better world, helped to enable her to sustain the afflictions of this, more effectually than if she had had gold and silver to bestow on her.

THE CLERGYMAN

A pious minister, sinking under the weight of a distressed parish, whose worldly wants he was totally unable to bear, was suddenly relieved by a charitable widow, who came up, and took all the sick and hungry on her own shoulders, as her part of the load. The burden of the parish, thus divided, became tolerable. The minister, being no longer bowed down by the temporal distresses of his people, applied himself cheerfully to his own part of the weight. And it was pleasant to see how those two persons, neither of them very strong, or rich, or healthy, by thus kindly uniting together, were enabled to bear the weight of a whole parish; though, singly, either of them must have sunk under the attempt. And I remember one great grief I felt during my whole journey was, that I did not see more of this union and concurring kindness, more of this acting in concert, by which all the burdens might have been so easily divided. It troubled me to observe, that of all the laws of the valley, there was not one more frequently broken than “the law of kindness.”

THE NEGROS

I now spied a swarm of poor black men, women, and children, a multitude which no man could number; these groaned, and toiled, and sweated, and bled under far heavier loads than I had yet seen. But for a while no man helped them; at length a few white travellers were touched with the sorrowful sighing of those millions, and very heartily did they put their hands to the burdens; but their number was not quite equal to the work they had undertaken. I perceived, however, that they never lost sight of those poor heavy-laden wretches; though often repulsed, they returned again to the charge; though discomfited, they renewed the effort, and some even pledged themselves to an annual attempt till the project was accomplished; and as the number of these generous helpers increased every year, I felt a comfortable hope, that before all the blacks got out of the valley, the whites would fairly divide the burden, and the loads would be effectually lightened.1

Among the travellers, I had occasion to remark, that those who most kicked and struggled under their burdens, only made them so much the heavier, for their shoulders became extremely galled by those vain and ineffectual struggles. The load, if borne patiently, would in the end have turned even to the advantage of the bearers, for so the Lord of the valley had kindly decreed; but as to these grumblers, they had all the smart, and none of the benefit; they had the present suffering, without the future reward. But the thing which made all these burdens seem so very heavy was, that in every one, without exception, there was a certain inner packet, which most of the travellers took pains to conceal, and kept carefully wrapped up; and while they were forward enough to complain of the other part of their burdens, few said a word about this; though in truth it was the pressing weight of this secret packet which served to render the general burden so intolerable. In spite of all their caution, I contrived to get a peep at it. I found in each that this packet had the same label; the word sin was written on all as a general title, and in ink so black, that they could not wash it out. I observed that most of them took no small pains to hide the writing; but I was surprised to see that they did not try to get rid of the load, but the label. If any kind friend who assisted these people in bearing their burdens, did but so much as hint at the secret packet, or advise them to get rid of it, they took fire at once, and commonly denied they had any such article in their portmanteau; and it was those whose secret packet swelled to the most enormous size, who most stoutly denied they had any.

I saw, with pleasure, however, that some who had long labored heartily to get rid of this inward packet, at length found it much diminished, and the more this packet shrunk in size, the lighter was the other part of their burdens also. I observed, moreover, that though the label always remained in some degree indelible, yet that those who were earnest to get rid of the load, found that the original traces of the label grew fainter also; it was never quite obliterated in any, though in some cases it seemed nearly effaced.

Then, I thought, all at once I heard a voice, as it had been the voice of an angel, crying out, and saying, “Ye unhappy pilgrims, why are ye troubled about the burden which ye are doomed to bear through this Valley of Tears? Know ye not, that as soon as ye shall have escaped out of this valley, the whole burden shall drop off, provided ye neglect not to remove that inward weight, that secret load of sin, which principally oppresses you? Study, then, the whole will of the Lord of this valley. Learn from him how this heavy part of your burdens may now be lessened, and how, at last, it shall be removed forever. Be comforted. Faith and hope may cheer you even in this valley. The passage, though it seems long to weary travellers, is comparatively short; for beyond, there is a land of everlasting rest, where ye shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; where ye shall be led to living fountains of waters, and all tears shall be wiped away from your eyes.”

1 This pious and philanthropic hope, the amiable writer just lived to see realized, before she was, called to her great reward.