Big Box of Belonging

I came in from my walk and saw the box on the kitchen counter. The mailbox had been empty, but that is not uncommon. When we have packages the mail carrier has to head up the driveway and deliver it directly to the house. I had gotten a notice that some medicines had been shipped, so I thought that was what the box contained.

But it wasn’t the usual box that meds would have come in. It was priority mail. I looked at the address. It was from a friend in Colorado. Wasn’t expecting that. Wonder what it could be? What was coming here after Christmas? I had not heard to be looking for anything.

I got back to my little den and opened it up. It was filled with chocolates and coffee and some candy. That was incredibly nice. I like all of those things—perhaps too well at times. But there was also an envelope. A sealed envelope. A thick envelope. An envelope that held more envelopes.

Here was the real treasure. Here were notes from many folks I had met and served on mission trips for the past few years. Here were expressions of concern and care that had showed up to surprise me.

I sat and began opening the envelopes. One by one I read and remembered. I started crying. I read another one. I kept crying. This went on for probably an hour.

This was crying of a different kind. I had lost my sister to cancer on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. After a year and half of doing everything medically possible to save her, we had to give her up. I had invested blood, sweat, and tears into that long walk. Most of the tears that came with her passing were of the sad, frustrated, and mournful variety. They were the sobs of sorrow that cannot be contained but have to find an outlet—tear ducts are a way out for what cannot be held back. I had cried over Janet many times in the weeks since. The tears would well up in a heartbeat. They would come suddenly over little things. The Psalmist talks of drenching his bed with tears—not quite to that level for me, but definitely full of sorrows.

The tears that came with these notes were tears, not of joy or gladness, but of something else. As I poured over the notes and the words I could feel the connection with these people who were miles away, but who wanted to be close. I savored the sentiments of concern and care that were being offered. I could see faces and smiles. I could hear laughter and voices. I could almost feel the touch that was behind it all. These tears were reminders of others that had been shared when we had been through numerous partings.

I was not looking for catharsis that afternoon. I had had a good walk in the sunshine which is good for my soul. But this unbidden and unexpected outpouring was so needed and so welcomed. That hour spent reading and weeping was better medicine than I could have gotten from anyone anywhere. That box was full of a sense of belonging.

Grief is an intriguing process. We usually think of grieving as all the sadness, all the sorrow, all the painful memories, all the emptiness, all the lostness that goes with missing someone so badly. Admittedly, there have been many times in which waves of sorrow and sadness have welled up and threatened to overwhelm me. They come crashing in with more power and depth than I am ready for; they, too, seem to come out of nowhere. It doesn’t even have to be something dark or drear that makes it happen. On Thanksgiving morning I was overwhelmed by the brilliance of the sunshine thinking that I would not get the chance to share this day with my sister. Eating someone else’s Christmas Cookies made me know that I wouldn’t be having any of Janet’s ever again. My phone accidentally pocket-dialed her number. All of those were moments of sadness.

But this moment was rich with a special gladness. It was a connection that came across space and time to find and lift me. It was a box of belonging from some who were not able to be present with me, but wanted to share their presence as best they could. I was crying, not tears of joy really, but of something else. Tears of gratitude? Tears of healing? Tears of belonging? Maybe that last one is what I’m after. Tears that cement the connection.

As I reflect on the experience, it reminds me of a something that another good friend offered once: “Let there be such oneness between us, that when one cries, the other tastes salt.”—Jim Eastin

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