The Parable of the Boxes

We all have a box to fill, metaphorically, but that’s not the most important question. The question is not even related to the size of the box, although, we might have to eventually unpack that too. The most important question in this story is, do you even know you have a box?

So. Picture a box. A cardboard box. Square. Brown. Smelling of paper plants and, I don’t know, cardboard places. It has a bottom, sealed with tape, and a top, open with the four flaps sticking up, waiting to be folded into place and taped shut. Closing it. Ready to pack away.

We have all done that: pack a box. When moving like we just did, or, helping someone move. Or taking donations somewhere, or packing holiday decorations for the season. It’s a process of selecting what will fit, wrapping it up, and then nestling it into an available space inside the yet unfilled box.

At some point, I realized something about life and that box. Something that a simple box taught me about responsibility, work, and greed.

So it goes like this: we all have a box to fill. In my case, I am a married man with two daughters so, just to start, my box has to contain all the stuff we’ll all need as a family to prosper. Their health care, clothes, food, pre-school, after school, furnishings, a house, and, I don’t know, a pony! Not to mention their sports fees, and dance. Pets. Trips. Clothes. I meant to say clothes twice.

Then, my wife needs stuff in our box. Can’t forget about her. Her health care and car, her clothes, her eyeglasses, hair salons, nails, shoes, landscaping, wallpaper. I am just hitting the high points. Plus there is the saving for college, my health care and car, and long-term disability, taxes, and student loans. The list of things I need in my box is getting pretty long. It’s starting to look like the pre-flight checklist for a 747. It’s in its own 3-ring binder now.

During my 20s and 30s, when the kids were little and my box was so very not full, not close to full, I worried about everything. I hadn’t put the things in my box that the world, and my wife, and especially her parents, but also my parents, expected me to have in there. It felt like people were always looking into my sad, half-empty box. It was stressful. But, I worked hard and had some lucky breaks, and eventually achieved financial success.

By that time, I had paid for school and all those other things and had decided my box needed to be big enough for a boat. Then a house on the lake, and a different boat. That all made perfect sense. Lots of people’s boxes have boats in them. Congratulating myself, I decided that plane tickets would fit in there. Maybe a stack of them. So, we traveled all over. It turns out, if you stretch, you can fit a dozen of trips to the Caribbean in that box. Maybe two!

That’s about the time it occurred to me, probably in the Caribbean, that my box was on the hefty side. Like Jaba before he met Princess Leah and trimmed down. More importantly, that lesson taught me there was a lid, or there should be, on that box.

Maybe it would help explain if we flipped that over…

What if the box has no lid? What if it just stretches and stretches so that “full” is not even a thing. That means that your life goal is… more. It sounds simple, but there is a huge problem with “more” as a goal.

More is not achievable. More is not reachable. More is not a place we can do and celebrate being there. More is not a state humans can accomplish. More is extractive. Demeaning. Ultimately more is wholly destructive. More is never over.

The alternative to “more” is that lid on your box.

Here’s the recipe: Decide what needs to be in your box. No really. Make a list like your engineer friends (or be you, you know who you are) of all the Things. Don’t be shy about it, my box had a Porsche and a Waverunner in it, so. No judgment. Log it all in a spreadsheet and tape it to your treadmill or something. That’s your list. But once you get there, instead of stretching the box, decide that means “full”, tape it closed, and move on.

Move on where?

IDK, you’ll be all smart by then and you’ll know. Maybe pick someone’s still unfilled box and start over there? Maybe someone who might not have had the luck you had? Either way, just know, that boxes can be filled. Life might not really even start until you’ve filled your own box and begun to live for someone, something, bigger than just “more”.

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