Arriving at work on an ordinary winter day, I wriggled out of my coat and flipped the light switch in my office. Heading toward the desk, I saw an object sitting right in the middle of the paper clutter (sign of a creative mind, you know!) It was a basket. I dropped my purse and slid into my chair to take a closer look.
This was no ordinary basket. It was a work of art - decorated with dried flowers and ribbons. Perched atop the handle was a small bird's nest with a sweet little bird peeking out. What was this all about? Who had done this?
Inside the basket were a variety of little gifts all individually wrapped in lovely floral tissue paper, lacy paper doilies and ribbons adorned with silk roses. This basket was a masterpiece of creativity, patience and love. I found a beautifully calligraphied note telling me that this was a "care basket" just for me from one of the volunteers at the non-profit where I worked.
I blinked back tears. The whole image was so breathtaking that I decided then and there that I would not open these gifts. I would save them for some time when I really needed to be encouraged -- for that proverbial rainy day.
From a young age, I have saved things. I'm not a collector in the sense of figurines or coins or teacups. Instead I hold onto things in case there isn't enough. I gather things that make me feel safe and loved and nurtured. When I don't want something to be over, I don't even let it begin.
For example, when I was very young with no spending money of my own, gum was a precious commodity. If my mom or older sister gave me a stick of gum, I kept it. Every day or so, I would break off a tiny piece - just enough to fill my mouth with minty freshness. Because these pieces were too small to chew, I would suck them, sometimes for hours. I felt like I'd hit the jackpot if someone gave me a new stick of gum before the old one was completely used.
As a teen, I sometimes waited DAYS to open a piece of personal mail. Not because I didn't want to read it or didn't care about the sender. I waited because the joy of having the letter or package lying on my bedside stand was greater than actually reading or opening it. It meant that someone cared about me and I never knew when I would get another sign of that.
In later years, I kept a drawer filled with gift cards and certificates. I loved knowing that any day I wanted, I could enjoy a massage or a new dress from Kohl's or dinner at Olive Garden. That drawer assured me that I was guaranteed some good things to look forward to just in case the stream of good things dried up. Or at least I was guaranteed the IDEA of good things since I never actually cashed those gift cards in. (Sorry to everyone who's ever given me a gift card!)
Ugh. ... before you ship me off to the loony bin, let me explain.
You see, I've lost some things that were precious to me. We all have. And while some people seem to roll with life's losses, others of us develop a deep fear of loss which creates a real dilemma when it comes to good things in life!
When you struggle with loss, receiving something good triggers a whole substrata of fears. As soon as a good moment, good gift or good person arrives in your life, your life history reminds you that the good thing in front of you won't last.
Fear of loss either makes you very careless with things or very careful. Since you know that good things never last, you either use them up quickly before they can disappear, or you gather and keep them for the inevitable dark day when the last good thing is gone. Some of us live wildly, recklessly, extravagantly - moving quickly from one thing to the next. Others live cautiously, guardedly, stingily - clinging tightly to everything.
Those who fear loss are always trying to squeeze as much as possible out of every moment, every situation, every relationship. While our methods differ, we are both haunted by the fear that sooner or later someone will figure out what we already suspect... we weren't worthy of these good things in the first place. Once the mistake is discovered, the things we love will be stripped away. There are never enough good things to make us feel safe.
So it's no wonder that I took my lovely care basket home and tenderly placed it on a shelf where it stayed tucked away year after year. Occasionally I would notice it, but I was never tempted to open it. Somehow the sight of that basket on the shelf comforted me. If things ever got really awful (which they did!), I was "insured" that I would have something beautiful to sustain me. I felt reassured each time I survived a hard spell and hadn't "needed" the basket. It was good to know that things hadn't gotten THAT bad yet.
But a strange thing happened. Over the years, the basket stopped comforting me and started mocking me - threatening me, even.
"You can't open me." "You're too afraid to live without me." "You need me." "You'll never get another basket like me." "Once you open me, I'll be gone forever."
The basket became covered in ten years of dust, the dainty dried flowers webbed from spiders, the fragile leaves broken from being moved from spot to spot. Still I could not open it. The unknown treasures it held had grown in my mind to magical proportions. They now held the power to heal, to restore, to empower - should I ever need them.
It should be noted that during these years, I was working hard on my "stuff." I began to glance at the basket and realize that I was healing. I was being restored. I was feeling empowered. Without the basket!
One very ordinary day I had grown enough. With a remarkable lack of ceremony, I simply sat down and opened the dusty basket.
You know what? Not a single thing in that basket was worth waiting ten years for!
As I opened each dainty package - a bottle of cheap hand lotion, a pack of pretty napkins, a votive candle, a travel size Kleenex (for love of snot - I had hoarded Kleenex!). the magic faded and these simple items became what they had been intended to be ... a caring gesture from a kind woman. There was no magic after all. There was only love.
Love IS the good thing.
Healing the fear of loss takes time. I've learned that all good things come from love and that love does keep coming to me. There is always enough Love and I AM worthy to receive it. The more I release good and beauty into the world, the more good and beautiful things come to me.
I know I've healed a lot because I've now been known to open a package as soon as I enter the kitchen (I still haven't gotten to the point of tearing it open on the way up the driveway!) I spent my Christmas massage coupon in JANUARY this past year and I have an entire stick of gum in my mouth as I type!
Dear hearts ... it really is safe let go of fear of loss and open up to receive good things. We don't need to spend wildly and use good things up too soon. And we don't need to hoard good things or clutch them too long.
It turns out that we are continually surrounded by love and beauty and grace. And for every gift you receive, you can smile and know that even more love is headed your way.