Sunday, June 17, 2007

Pandora's Box

In the back of my garage is a red Olympic class racing sailboat, purchased almost 20 years ago and until the kids arrived, sailed several times a month almost all year round. It's spent the last decade in mothballs. Barnacle Boy's arrival put a stop to weekend sails, since I was unwilling to take 2-year old Crash out on the water alone, and I couldn't bring Math Man along, since obviously one couldn't leave the infant Boy on shore alone. And for some reason Math Man was not keen on being left behind with an infant and toddler while I flew across the water. (You may notice that I wasn't volunteering to be our girl on shore, either, so can't say as I blamed him!) So we turned to other outdoor activities, and the boat morphed into a convenient storage shelf.

Fifty fewer inspired me to delve into the boxes stacked on the boat and reclaim it for its intended purpose - sailing! Surely if I had not desired anything stored out there in years, much of it could be recycled, reused (by someone else) or just trashed? This afternoon's cool (for mid-June) weather and the absence of Crash and Math Man inspired me to begin digging. In short order Barnacle Boy and I had dispatched the decaying rug padding packed into the cockpit to the trash bin, put aside some extra pots and pans for St. Vincent de Paul, and cleared out a collection of cassette tapes that had long ago been converted to purely electronic playlists.

The Boy's attention drifted and he abandoned me for a snack, I was alone in the cool stillness. One box remained, from its label a stray from sabbatical leave in 1998 when we packed up much of the house to rent it out. I opened it to find notes and files from my theology studies, had I really once had all that at my fingertips? A flat package was tucked in the bottom of the box. Curious, I pulled back the flap. A crumpled, pale yellow cable knit sweater emerged. "Funny, I don't recall owning that sweater." Underneath were a pair of dirty socks, and a wallet. The pieces fell together with a resounding clunk. "Oh God, it's Tom's things from the night he died." The white plastic bag from the hospital, change from his pockets, his glasses neatly tucked into their case...I feel as if I'd been snatched from the quiet, dusty archives by an evil jinn and dropped back into the maelstrom of that night in the ER. Would the Boy come back to the garage and wonder where his mother had gone?

I didn't know what to do with the contents. What would I do with his shirt? much less with unwashed socks and underwear? I suddenly had a vision of Marie Curie sitting before the fire, in a paroxysm of grief, cutting her dead husband's clothes into pieces and throwing them into the fire. I could relate. Reality rapidly reasserted itself, far too hot for a fire in June and surely modern synthetics would not burn like Pierre's Parisian linen. I couldn't bear to actually take anything out of the box, I just looked. I finally called my best friend - who asked the very sensible question, do you need to DO anything with what's in the box right now? It's not as if I'm so short on storage space that I can keep only the bare necessities. So, no, there's nothing that must be done right this moment. I talked to her, poked at the box's content a bit more (his watch, a mass spec with his scribbled notes) and finally decided to close it up, label it and put it away for another time.

I suspect I subconsciously knew these objects were somewhere, and was therefore devoting internal space to wondering about when and how I would encounter them again. Even though I didn't move them out physically, I certainly feel as if some space was cleared around them internally. I wish I understood why I felt compelled to pray over the box before I put it away.

Yet another mystery is what those things were doing in that box in the first place? My best guess is that my mother would have put all these things aside for me to deal with later, though I'm sure she didn't intend it to be this much later. She was staying in our guest room cum study at the time, which might explain why it ended up packed with things theological.


  1. Having spent a little of yesterday dealing with the remembrance of those passed, I sympathise. Do hope the box doesn't feel too heavy, now you've been reminded that it's there.

  2. It's good to know it's there, and that in fact, it needs only to exist for the time being!

    I kept thinking of the line.."do this in remembrance of me"...

    grace and peace!

  3. I read your post on Sunday, and you have been in my prayers ever since. You left me thinking of those I've lost and pondering whether I've created a "clear space" for them inside me. Thank you.