It has taken me too many years to discover and admit out loud that I used to manage my being by settling into boxes – many that others provided early on and, later, boxes I chose or created for myself for whatever reasons. I realize parents need to box in their children, especially through the crucial formative years. Parents, after all, are teachers as well as lovers, and keeping children safe and feeling loved and cared for should be every parent’s most basic job description. Is there any better way to do that than to put them in boxes?
Family, neighborhood, church and school; crib, highchair, car seat and curfew – just some of the boxes many inhabit on the way to maturity. Wise parents help their children to accept, if not understand, the need for such confinements, and the wisest encourage them to grow in or out of them, eventually to make their own responsible choices for keeping themselves safe and feeling loved. Oftentimes and quite naturally, some of those choices become other boxes.
Boxes can have both benefits and drawbacks. Besides the safety factor, boxes can help to make one’s life convenient and mostly predictable. For those who dislike change, the limits and predictability boxes provide are comforting. Known territory can seem better than unknown, if only because it is known; one’s hometown, for example, or one’s workplace, or culture or religion. Such boxes can define and enrich any life. They can also shortchange it. Boxes can narrow a mind, a vision and a world. Prejudice, bigotry, racism are ugly boxes that should be labeled “Poison.” An individual’s culture or color or self-image can distort his or her vision and ability to touch a world into being better through who they are and the gifts they have to offer. Boxes can seduce a self into settling for feelings of helplessness – being trapped, a victim of fate. Boxes can become a world infinitesimally confined and apart when measured against the true gift of a life that is open and boundless. Even when necessary, no boxes should be so small that individuals cannot spread their wings to lift themselves and embrace a wider world.
It is difficult to imagine a world without boxes. They were probably invented long before the wheel. And it is just as difficult to imagine the holiday season without them. During the coming weeks, any box, whether being filled, wrapped, opened or tossed, can hold a gift for anyone reading this, if only a sense of wonder and gratitude for self, this wide, wide world, and all the possibilities of life.