Finally, after three plus years, all our stuff is under the same roof again. After fetching the last few boxes from my in-laws’ attic, we spent the better part of last Saturday unpacking and strolling down memory lane—looking at old photos, combing through band memorabilia to see who had the most superior medals, and (in my case) wearing every single piece of graduation bling I ever earned.
We found fun things like a scrapbook full of photos from our last vacation in 2004 (Yes, it’s been that long!), a Nintendo system we bought on whim off of Ebay because we had a hankering to play Zelda and Battle of Olympus, our old letterman jackets, some useless gewgaws from my days as a high school teacher, and even an ill-advised Halloween costume that I kept for some reason. However, it wasn’t until tonight when I was breaking down the boxes to take them out with the trash that I noticed this.
Don’t worry. This isn’t Schrödinger’s box or anything. Nothing nefarious happened in it. In fact, it’s never held anything more harmful than a few silk flowers and is now as hollowed out as Miley Cyrus’ sense of self-worth. (Too soon?!?) But it’s not what was in the box that matters. It’s the flimsy cardboard itself.
This box was filled with, as the label says, “China Hutch Stuff.” We haven’t owned that hutch since 2003, when we lived in our last home in Valdosta. I lost my job teaching in Echols County due to budget cuts, and rather than stay, we chose to move to Florida where the sun is always shining and there are only two seasons: summer and January. I packed that box when I was 25 years old and (as we say in the South) was feeling fine as a frog hair split three ways. Back then, two men I love (my grandfather and my great uncle James) were still alive. We had yet to make the mistakes that would send our lives on an entirely different trajectory. Even my illness was still months away.
When I wrapped the champagne flutes and cake topper from our wedding and tucked them away amid the keepsake napkins, ribbons, and party favors from that magical, long ago day, I was a completely different person than I am now. It may be my hasty handwriting on that box, but I barely resemble the cocksure dame who scribbled it.
I’ve moved that box six or seven times (without once opening it), but when I saw it again today, the ten years between that moment and this zoomed past me at once like something out of a cartoon. It felt foreign to me, like a relic from a life I barely remembered. And the time it represented was like a piece of threadbare cloth, faint and worn thin from too many handlings.
I considered saving this box, keeping it so I could remember the way things used to be. But when I thought about who I was then and how far I’ve come spiritually, emotionally, and mentally, I realized I wouldn’t trade anything to go back. That life, I see now, was just as empty as the box is today. What I thought was worth pursuing was really a “vanity of vanities.”
The real joy is never what we leave behind. It’s the glorious possibility that surrounds us today and what lies ahead of us tomorrow. And that is something that can never, ever be contained in a box.