“Think outside the box” we hear repeatedly. Often the wit of a sharp phrase destroys years of conventional wisdom. Recently, my brother popped the question. Looking over the glorious proposal album, I noticed the all important ring inside the box. All things vital are guarded inside the box! Why become distracted looking outside?
When I was five years old, I had a box of treasures. I started collecting early. I had an eye for rare items. Erasers. Beads. Early on, I knew that it is what you put inside your box that defines you. By separating ourselves from the outside world, we gain identity. At ten, I found a bump in the attic of our old house. I ripped off the wallpaper, and found old coins that proved to be over two hundred years old. True treasures! They replaced the lesser items in my box.
1979, I was eleven when the Iranian revolution displaced my family. Mr. Shahin, a trusted source, came over to our house and my father asked him to safely transfer my box of treasures to our new home in America. That was the last I saw of the box. Immigrants leave themselves behind like a dying pet that must be placed to rest before a long journey. Some attempt to pack their older self into a stork’s pouch. They fail to realize that hoarders can’t survive the journey through the desert. We desperately try to revive the memories of the smell of a perfume, the sound of a vibrant voice, the touch of a warm, heavy hand. But alas.
I was thirty eight. I finally built up the courage to collect again. Or it was out of a genetically encoded compulsion that had been kept dormant long enough? There is a Persian saying that quitting an addiction leads to a new disease. I started collecting Japanese earthenware and eventually co-produced the definitive book on the subject of Satsuma.
Collectors know, all too well, that we are but temporary guardians of the objects of our obsession. The value of the collection is often more than the collector’s home. Yet, as we stare at an object that is over a hundred years old, we quickly realize that the hand that created it is beneath the ground, and ours will be too, while the object will slip through our hold to another. We enter this world with both fists tightly gripped, yet leave with open hands, nothing in them. In the end, the object is placed inside one box, and its collector into another, six feet under.
We know that at the end of our time, it is not things that are important, but memories. Yet, we spend most of our waking moments collecting things, not memories. And still, as I care for stroke patients and hear the moans of the caretakers of those with dementia, I am even doubtful of the value of memories we accrue.
A treasure is not collected. A treasure is not remembered. A treasure is made in the moment it receives attention and love and cannot be lived without. Kindness improves life. Attention improves objects. Love improves memory. So I write with the faith that the hand that cast me as a stone onto this world will care for the ripples I create to future generations.
Our lives revolve around what is inside a box. The bassinet. The treasure box. Your brain. My heart. My brother’s ring box. A box of chocolates. Our Mishkan. Luggage packed for an unknown trip. Our Coffin. The value of what is inside the box is measured only by the light that shines on it by the admirer and is seen only when given away in love. The rock in the box becomes a promise of a lifetime of caring; our souls are returned back to our Creator once the final box is closed.
Each of us is a living treasure box and love holds the key.
Next time, think again, think inside the box!