We have the joy of relationship with a family friend who is truly one-of-a-kind. She is quirky, funny, both solitary and outgoing. She is our daughter’s “Moon Mom” (a preferred title over godmother) and I would trust her with both my deepest secrets and lightest laughter. We have built and walked a labyrinth together, dipped our fingers in chocolate sauce and whipped cream for a picnic dessert, floated for hours together on the lazy Missouri river, and held a rousing and competitive Blokus tournament spread out in back tables of a diner to pass the afternoon hours of a blazing hot midwest afternoon. We live several states apart now, so one of the joys we have created is playing “what’s in the box” together over the phone. It is like 20 questions, but involves an object in a box we mail to each other. If you guess it right, you get to open it and keep the item inside. Otherwise…well…we haven’t actually reached an otherwise…but the possibility of that conclusion to the game always looms large at around question 18, right before major hints start being dropped.
I have been thinking about the significance of boxes today after listening to a podcast on The Memory Palace (http://thememorypalace.us/2012/11/picture-a-box/) detailing the story of Henry Box Brown. If you haven’t listened to it, take 15 minutes and please do. It is riveting and moving, not only for the story itself but for all the metaphors of boxes it conjures up for the listener. There are boxes into which we are placed (or into which we place ourselves) in order to create order, opportunity, or escape. We may box ourselves into a religion, a racial category, a political party, a sexual orientation, a social class. Others may likewise box us into categories that help separate “us” from “them” and place those boxes on a heap, or perhaps even on a pedestal. No matter how ugly or ornate it is, it is still a box. We may begin to feel trapped inside, or we may grow to find the familiar shapes and size of the box comforting. Familiar. Home.
This metaphor is made palpable in the Henry Box Brown story I mentioned previously. You may listen and agree or disagree with my take on it, but what struck me is that Henry Box Brown never actually left his box. His identity, his name, and eventually even his livelihood were dependent on the box. We may think of him as “free” but to me he was still enslaved. His identity depended on the box, even though the box was supposed to be his route to freedom. The fear of the unknown outweighed the identity of the known. Freedom can be terrifying. Or, it can be liberating. Sometimes, it is both.
Back to the game of “what’s in the box?” where I began tonight’s entry. This game is a highlight of great proportions in our family but it has nothing to do with the value of its contents. The contents are quirky, goofy, castoff items that we think will stump the player several states away from guessing its hidden identity. The boxes themselves are either recycled, or reused to send the next item to the other player. But each time someone guesses the contents close enough that the sender announces, “open it and see!” the true object is revealed. What is interesting is that the object then takes on a new life. They are not just items to be tossed aside as silly trinkets or stuck in a drawer. Some have been antique coins, others have been pocket sized expandable frisbees. All now have special significance. These items are talked about in family lore, and cherished as gifts of spirited fun that mark the seasons of our lives. They inspire souvenir conquests from vacations that can stump the guesser, and the saving of boxes that belie their contents and throw the guesser off course. The value of the item is increased because of its link to the box, and because of its liberation from it. In that process there is light, and lightness of being.
What’s in your box?