There were so many boxes. Twenty three in all, in fact. And they had been partway around the world. That was clear. Labels here, stickers there, barcodes, inspection confirmations, diplomatic mail insignias, customs readouts: they had seen a lot in their day. By the time I had seen them all, they had made it all the way to Korea…and back. A friend, whose business the pandemic essentially ended, a wedding photographer, had tried to send the boxes to a friend in Korea, but the friend had refused them and sent them back…after my friend had already moved to Korea.
I thought of my friend, yes. But I also knew how many of those boxes had clothes, toys, Legos, and other important things for his five-year-old daughter. The thought that this precious child would be without all of her things when she arrived back in Korea was not acceptable to me, so I volunteered to help. Also, there really wasn’t anyone else who could help. How hard could it be? Slap a few labels on the boxes. Fill out some forms. Send them on their way. Right?
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen what twenty three boxes looks like. But when you pile, say, half of that into a big orange wagon and wheel it out into the open space among the post office boxes, it starts to seem like a lot. I wanted to un-volunteer for this task. I wanted someone else to come and and do this for me, like a paralegal, whom I realized in that moment had done this very thing for me when I was a lawyer, likely hundreds of times. I didn’t regret offering to help. I only wished the help was less involved.
I confess, I got a little frustrated. I sent some photos of the mess to my friend, maybe to let him know what I’d gotten into. Maybe for sympathy. I am only human. And then I took one box in hand, removed all the labels, added the new one, filled out the form, and then one was done. Then I did it again, and again, and again. It took the entire time the post office was open Monday. Then I went back Tuesday and did it again for another three hours. Until it was done.
I heard from my friend yesterday, on Veterans Day. He told me that he finally slept more than five hours because he was no longer worrying about those boxes and his daughter’s things. And he thanked me again. I thought of the years my friend served in the military, the physical injuries he sustained while he did, and other invisible injuries that haunt him still. And I was a little ashamed I wasn’t more willing or chipper. But I paused and thought. Helping does not always happen in a simple gesture. Helping isn’t always fun. And real help, meaningful help, might take a day or more of my time. And sometimes help is built box by box by box. And if you’re lucky, help brings a smile to a five-year-old face, thousands of miles away.
And may it ever be so.
Rev. T. J.