by Rachel Wilkinson
One night, a few months ago, my very young nephew did not want to go to bed. I scooped him up and tucked him into warm covers, but he was having none of it. He wanted to be downstairs where the adults were telling stories.
So I told one to him. I described a day, a beautiful day in a shining meadow. There’s a picnic. And all his friends are there. “…and Neal is there, and Sierra is there, and Auntie Rachel is there, and….” I listed us all. His eyes glowed, and he couldn’t stop smiling as he stared at the ceiling and imagined it—in a field, playing games, with everyone in the world that he loves.
There’s something in this story that’s gentle, and calming, and old. Centuries ago, this was how we lived: in tight-knit groups of people whom we knew our whole lives long, in a dark cluster of houses with the wilderness beyond. It was a bit stinky, maybe, but we were safe, and we were loved.
Today, we’re dispersed around the globe. Where once we would have seen a few dozen familiar faces for decades, now we see hundreds every day. Every interaction is a new opportunity to be cool, right? But I sometimes miss that enclosed, safe place where everybody knows me.
Recently, I spoke with Shuchi, whose husband created an Awesomebox for her birthday. On a Friday night, gathered with friends around a big corner table at Lola’s restaurant, she felt rather than saw the commotion a few seats away. Many hands passed a bag to her. She reached inside, took out a white box with her own smiling face on it, and opened it. Picture after picture, she pulled out the people in her life she cared most about.
“This is awesome!”
She recalled being surprised, happy and grateful. Everyone at the table, all contributors to the Awesomebox, got big hugs. They expected her to cry, but she didn’t. She was, she says, too happy.
First thing the next morning, though, and without waking kids or husband, she curled up on her couch with her box and went through it again, slowly and with care. She examined each image and read what her people had written. “Oh my god, this is from my friends all across the world,” she realized.
“This time, there were tears rolling down my face. I was really happy. I felt really thankful that I had so many people who loved me, people from across the globe, and it was like they were there for me. Every card I read, I had tears rolling down. I spent an hour re-reading it.”
That evening, Shuchi had her girlfriends over for tequila—another gathering, another celebration. Once more, the box came out to tell Shuchi’s story. Everyone wanted one; they had never seen anything like it. On Monday, it went to work so colleagues could hear and see. Even Shuchi’s father in Pune, India viewed the box on the website. “And then I had a happy dad.” All over the globe, friends and family had collaborated to send love on her birthday.
“People sitting across the world—you don’t feel like that anymore. It’s like the person is with you from so far away.”
Every time you open it, every picture you pull out, and each word you read takes you back to your village.