“A hope chest, dowry chest, cedar chest, or glory box is a chest used to collect items such as clothing and household linen, by unmarried young women in anticipation of married life.”
Hope. Glory. The language of longing, transcendence. The language of fulfillment. It may be that such appellations ultimately put too much store in a cedar lined box for it to bear. But what a lovely image nonetheless of storing up hope, of anticipating glory. I have been to enough weddings exuding glory–I have seen enough good marriages speaking of hopes fulfilled–amidst the rubble of so many others–to still not feel such ideals as hollow, though needing to be pursued with clear-eyed realism.
Two weeks ago, my small car with huge capacities to bear baggage (now there is a metaphor if ever there was one) was loaded with a hope chest, making its way up from San Antonio to St. Louis. This past Saturday, on August 3rd, it made the much shorter trek to Illinois, to the very region from which it had been taken to Pakistan some half a century before. It returned on very day it’s owner had died some 27 years earlier.
My mother’s hope chest long has been both a metaphor and a solid object containing memory for me to be able to ignore. And yet, still, I have not cataloged all its contents fully–have not plumbed its depths–because in some ways it is too much weight to bear. Perhaps the only objects left in it which align with its original purpose, are a pair of long, slender, white wedding gloves. The absence of the dress itself speaks of the presence of her charity, in her loan of it to a fellow missionary on the field, only to never receive it back.
Now, in more cynical moments, I might view this chest as collection of hopes thwarted, containing her beautiful saris and diplomas and jewelry. But in the light of truth, it is still a chest of hopes, of hopes fulfilled, of a life well lived–holding christening gowns and baby bibs and golden rings, a well worn mumu, and that large blue cardigan in which she did her work in the hospital.
And one day when we are all together we will do the heavy lifting and catalog it all, and it will be used by my sweet niece to start a new catalog of hopes.
I cannot say that this past Saturday was an exceptionally difficult day. When time passes, grief is perhaps less tethered to dates, and yet the passing of the day and the noting of what portion of my life has gone by without my mother always makes for some weighty accounting. Here is an old poem when the fraction of my life without her was much lower.
a sabbath cycle sets this year, mom
and me 23
that means that come this time in a year
a third of my life will have gone by
and slowly it goes on
the gradual slide to accept as commonplace
the thought that chilled with horror
my cozy childhood heart; me alive
and so it will go on
until God moves His hand
in countless moments of joy and pain
the sun and rain will weather me
God, please let the mantle fall
of one who loved you well
and let me live like her
as she sought to live like you
and pierce and punctuate
the busy fabric of my life