The cigar box

Photo By Larry Dalton

I was young, about 14. I believed myself to be very mature and wise to the world. I understood what it took to be keen and clever and on your guard. I knew there were snakes everywhere waiting to trip you up. I was arrogant in my knowledge of how things were.

I entered an antique store, as I held a fascination with interesting things and items not often seen. There were collections of things everywhere. An old man with bifocals nearly falling off his nose stood behind a counter, looking intently into a box of what looked like newfound treasures. He glanced at me, and I at him, in a way to simply acknowledge that I was there. I watched him out of the corner of my eye, thinking he was watching me carefully because he was afraid I might steal something. I felt it was important to look bored and uninterested, yet when I found this old cigar box and lifted its lid, there was a beautiful picture of a woman who looked so peaceful and serene. I fell instantly in awe with it and wanted it badly, although I was sure it would be too much money.

Cautiously, I shifted my eyes toward the old man, hoping that he had not seen my enthusiasm. As maturely and as sharply as I could, I asked, “How much is this box?” as though I could have cared less. He stopped doing what he was doing to give me his full attention. He shifted his glasses and then asked me slowly, “Do you like that box?” I thought it was a trick question and felt annoyed. So, I replied in an obnoxious voice. “Depends on how much it is.” He nodded his head in a way that implied, “I see,” and then slowly he announced, “I’ll tell you what. I’m gonna give you that box. I want you to have it. It’s a special box.”

In my shock, I regressed into an innocent 14-year-old girl, who responded simply, “I really do love this box. It is special. Thank you.” He smiled as if to say, “Good luck out there, young lady. The world is not such a bad place. Be generous and take time for the lessons of others.”

Thirty years later, when I think back on this, I can still feel the shift I felt then as I became aware of my own behavior. I had felt so ashamed, as though I were Eve learning that I was naked for the first time. I didn’t know it all. I could still change. Today, I believe in the overwhelming generosity of people’s hearts, the way we truly urge each other to connect, all of us on the same quest, to be just a little bit better than we were the day before.

Karen Crockett has been a mother and an educator her entire adult life. Her favorite quote is: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”