A few years ago, one of my very good and closest friends was heavily contemplating about a move to California. All her living family was there in sunny and warm California. She was the last living family member remaining in New York. I could tell how difficult of a decision this was for her. I also knew it was not a decision that I could make for her. I just told her, “Well, I am here if you need me to listen or to help with anything.”
She surprised me by giving me a copy of her key and with a request for a favor, “Can you check on my cat when I am gone and water my plants and bring in my mail when I am away in California?”
I felt so honored! No one had ever given me a copy of a key to their home before! No one had ever given me such responsibility! I thought that she must really trust me. Trust always takes time to build, but it will be one thing that can make it fall apart. I did not take her trust in me lightly. I held her trust in the highest importance, and knew that my actions would need to speak louder than my words that I would come through for her.
I dutifully and meticulously checked in on and befriended her cat, watered the plants, and brought in my friend’s mail. She had a persnickety alarm that I did not shut off the first time fast enough, causing the police to race over to her home and make sure that I was not an intruder. My friend and I laughed and laughed so hard about this with me as the ultimate badass suspected criminal! On the last day before my friend was to return, I came up with an idea to surprise her with her favorite treats! The only problem was I did not know where to put the plethora of treats in. A plastic bag seemed too boring. Paper bags were too big. Then, I remembered. My sister had mailed me a cuddly bear, bright balloons, and food in a red box as a birthday surprise. I had kept the red box with the utmost feeling that it would come to good use! Now, it would come to great use! In the red box, I filled it with my friend’s favorite snacks and a carefully chosen card that I decorated with stickers welcoming her back and explaining that this red box would be our way of sharing and caring to fill with goodies to welcome each other back from long trips. I ended with writing: “Keep this red box safe until it is your turn to surprise me! Missed you! You are loved!” My hope was that the red box filled with all she loved would bring a smile to her face as my sister had brought a smile to my face, remember that she was cared for and loved during this difficult time of making a decision, and, best of all, surprise her! Surprises are the best—well, most of the time, of course!
She was so pleasantly surprised and happy with this red box idea that it did not take her long to fill it up with my favorite snacks, treats, and gifts that she purchased in California for me. Over the years, we exchanged many handwritten cards and notes covered in stick figure drawings and smiley faces, favorite foodie snacks, tart sugary jams, flavored teas, and small notebooks. Each and every item was carefully placed in our red box. There was only pure joy on our faces when opening up and discovering what was in our red box.
In the last couple of years, my friend traveled more frequently and for longer durations in California. In the last couple of years, I felt like she was the only person I could turn to in the event of an emergency. She actually had come through for me when I had emergencies—going so far as to travel late at night to check on me when I was in the emergency room. She watched over my place and helped to take care of my kitty cat Ricky. Living all alone, I trusted VERY few people to come and take care of my place AND Ricky when I was gone. Always, always, when I returned home from a long trip or even from an exhausting emergency situation or emergency visit, the red box was there on the counter waiting for me. And a big smile took over my face.
About a year ago when she last visited California, she came to me with our red box that was tattered and had a torn handle. She gently and softly said, “I think our red box is done.” She had also told me that it was finalized that she was moving to California. Before she left for California, I gave the red box to her all taped up with clear packaging tape. It looked like I had performed surgery. Inside was a gift for her sister AND her. After all, the red box had originally come from my sister to me and now it was us Wu sisters giving it to these two sisters. I grinned at both of them and said, “There is nothing a little tape cannot fix. Good as news—or maybe even better. To new beginnings for you—for both of you.”
I do not know what happened to our red box. I am guessing it was thrown out somewhere in California. You can throw away items, but you cannot just throw away the memories—no matter how you may want to OR may not want to. I think of this red box and all that was shared and all the memories made that the box held over these years and our lives changing. . I think about what my Dad says that you always need to find and focus on commonalities and share with people to build up trust and the relationship, but be open to differences to learn from each other. We all have our burdens and troubles that can weigh on us heavily and wear us down, and they are lifted in small ways that make us smile when we share with each other. Not always, but maybe a little bit AND with selected people. We all want to be remembered, loved, cared for, and welcomed when we are at our worst that have the power to bring out our best. My friend and I shared with each other through and with this red box at our worst and made us remember and bring out our best. Our red box was also like our little time capsule of our changing and evolving lives.
Sharing with each other is a gift. Who alleviates your burdens and troubles and makes you feel remembered, cared for, and loved with and in the power of sharing? Who do you share ‘inside secrets and jokes’ with, and maybe even finish each other’s sentences? Who gets you even better than you get yourself with a mere side glance? Who do you share with?
I think about this red box that had patiently sat, awaited, and welcomed each of us at our counters after long trips. And, a big smile takes over my face.
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,