I enter the warehouse where the shelves are filled with boxes and bundles. I have a long list in my hands and as I walk down the rows of shelves I take a box here and there and place them in a shopping cart.
Yet, these are just boxes: brown cardboard, wrapped with tape or string, or bundles wrapped in brown paper. I cannot see what is inside of them, nor does my list reveal the contents. I am just selecting numbered boxes from the shelves and stacking them in my cart and moving on.
I do this for quite a while, until the cart is almost full. Then I take it to the back of the warehouse where a clerk helps me unload them on a conveyer belt. They shuttle off to who knows where. The clerk takes my list and checks off the bundles as I load them on the belt. Then I am off again to get more.
This goes on for a very long time, a perfunctory, mindless task that connects with nothing tangible except the list. Check, check, check . . . next. It is monotonous, mind numbing, empty work. Where is the sense of purpose, where is the hope of accomplishment? One basket done, another list . . .
Finally, I wheel my cart to a far corner of the warehouse where the light over one row has gone out. I hide myself among the shelves, sliding to the floor and backing up into a corner. I wrap my arms around my legs, put my chin on my knees, and sit.
Tears escape my eyes and roll down my cheeks, but I would not say I was crying. No sob comes forth, no emotion, really, just tears. I am as perfunctory in my crying as I was in my shopping. Nothing is in the packages that I can identify — nothing in the box or on the paper. Just a process, no life.
So I sit, hunkered down in my corner, letting tears flow, letting mindless voids inhabit my heart.
Someone with a cart like mine passes my row of shelves at the nearest intersection. I cower a bit, hoping I am not discovered, but it is too late. The fellow shopper turns and heads straight towards me. It is a small girl, she can barely see over the top of the cart, yet she has a list and reaches up to take a package off the shelf. She doesn’t see me. She turns her cart, having obtained her package, and heads back down the aisle.
“Stop!” I call after her. “Stop, come back!” She looks up, startled to see me there. She leaves her cart and comes to me, with concern on her face. She wonders if I am hurt. “Sit with me a moment,” I ask. She complies, seating herself on the floor next to me. Tucking her knees up under her chin, she mimics my position.
“What are we doing here?” I ask her.
I see an edge of panic in her eyes. “You don’t know? I thought all the older workers knew, that I would know, too, in time. You don’t know yet?” She looks at her cart and at mine. They are full of nameless boxes.
She slumps back against the wall and looks up at the ceiling. There is a sense of hopelessness in her resignation. It spurs me to action. “Let’s find out,” I say, and she watches me go to my cart to open a box. We both have sheepish, almost mischievous grins.
I loosen the string and slide my fingernail under the tape along the edge of the box and lift its lid. I open it up and there is a scroll inside. It bears a seal. If I break the seal there is no turning back, for it cannot be resealed. As I ponder this dilemma, I notice that the seal bears my initials. Could it be mine to open?
I look at her and break the seal and unroll the scroll. It reads, simply, “At last you wake.” There is nothing more upon the scroll and I look back in the box, but there is nothing there, either. I shrug my shoulders and carefully place the scroll in the top of my basket and reach for another box. This one opens with a flurry of wings as a dove flies from the box and lights upon the shelf nearby.
The small one next to me opens her first box. It, too, contains a scroll bearing her initials. She eagerly tears it open and it reads, “My love, full life awaits.”
She looks up at me and her eyes fill with tears as she reaches for the next bundle. It is large, and when she unwraps it, a robe unfolds. She wraps it round her shoulders and twirls around the aisle. Small and elegant, yet fully innocent, she bends and sways and watches the edges of the robe in delight, as they move around her in rhythm with her own movements. Her next box contains a crown, a small circlet of gold that I help her to place upon her head. It graces her presence.
She reaches for the last box in her cart. She opens it slowly and from it emerges . . . I cannot see . . . it is a mirror. When she looks within she sees not only her reflection, but also dozens of other faces. They are the images of those who call to her to lead them, to connect them with each other and to find a clear straight path. These faces smile at her and bid her hurry to them. She gives me one quick parting glance and is gone.
I turn back to my cart. One bundle remains. I open my own robe and put it on. In the center of the folds is a small circlet of gold for my head and a note. “He makes us all his royal family.”
I turn to find him standing behind me. He hugs me to himself and whispers in my ear, “Each day can be empty or full. Open the packages you are assigned. Wear your robe and rejoice.”
Then he, too, is gone. I place the circlet on my head and take my cart. It is a strange sight, robed and crowned to walk amid these shelves with my list and my packages. The dove takes flight from the shelf and leads me onward.
Life is a bit strange, but a touch of grace, here and there, can make all the difference.