They have just got back from their honeymoon, the confetti is hardly out of their hair, and the memory of all those cards being read aloud at the wedding reception is still alive in their brains. They wander around their new flat and into the spare room where all the presents that loving friends and family have given are waiting for them. Alongside the beautiful wrapped gifts are piles of personal belongings – the clutter of two lives.
So there they are: the old and the new possessions, all that this wide-eyed couple have to bring into their new life together. But wait. What are the two boxes over there, almost hidden in the dusty corner of the room? Where did they come from?
They are old, very old. The wood on each is worn with age, scarred from use, the brass of the handles dull with neglect, and on both are labels dated with the very years that they were born. Who packed them so full that they could be scarcely be lifted? And, having packed them, who brought them here, and what do they contain?
This man and woman, now husband and wife, will soon find the answers, for it was they themselves who packed the boxes – packed them piece by piece over twenty-five years, an entire life’s history of emotions and experiences. Oh, the newlyweds did not intend to bring those old things to this new home, but the boxes would not be left behind and, unknowingly, they have dragged them, bumped them, over the threshold of their new life together. And there will come a time when the boxes will be opened and the contents – painful events, emotional scars, quiet expectations and well-used patterns of behaviour – will eventually be unpacked.
It was on a Tuesday night at seven o’clock when it first happened. He got in late from work and the table was already laid. They chatted as she served the meal. What he said next was not vicious or vindictive, nor even premeditated. He said, “I think I’ll have mine in the other room on a tray – there’s a match on the television.”
The lasagne missed him because he ducked. “What did I say?” he muttered as she stormed out. How could he have known that as he declared his simple intention to watch the match tonight, the box belonging to his wife would open? Her mind would flash back fifteen years and a memory would come flooding back. She would remember a man sitting in front of the television with a meal on his tray. She would see clearly, as though she were there again, her mother trying to share some incident of the day with this man, a man who remained silent. And she would hear a little girl asking him to play with her – and the old reply, “Yes – later.”
Oh, they will make it up, this young couple. And she will say, “I’m sorry – that was silly.” But it was not silly, for none of us walks though life with our box empty. We each have one and we carry it around with us from encounter to encounter, relationship to relationship – and, of course, into marriage. Sadly, many of us don’t even know it’s there. All we do know is that we seem to react to certain circumstances in a particular way – but we couldn’t begin to guess why. The lid is thrown open, and both big and small issues are pulled out: how we respond to praise, react to petty argument, or even how we behave behind the wheel of a car.
The old baggage can drag us down, but it needn’t. We can clear some of that old stuff out and gain insights into the ways we react to situations that are hurtful to those around us. None of this is easy. It requires patience, understanding and a willingness to change. It means stopping ourselves long enough to ask, “Why am I feeling this way?” “Why am I saying these things?” And when we’ve done that, we must learn to be honest with our partners about our past hurts, heartbreaks and disappointments. Otherwise, one day, a ghost may come visiting.
Originally published on – “Let me tell you a story” by Rob Parsons