Lost Coins and Boxes

Luke 15:1-10  – The 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, September 15, 2013

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them . . .” ((Luke 15:8)

Raiders_Of_The_Lost_ArkUnlike Jesus’ parable of a woman scouring her house for a lost coin, my mother’s quest for a box didn’t have a happy ending.

In August a year ago, Mom had moved from her home of forty-six years to a retirement community. Many of the contents of her suburban house were donated, itemized for a garage sale or bequeathed to my two sisters and me. She would only bring what she needed to her new residence.

When I arrived for a first visit a couple of weeks after her move, the new apartment had packed and unpacked cardboard boxes everywhere . . . on her floors, piled in closets and also in the dishwasher-sized storage unit in a separate area. Mom had already filled her assigned space with several empty suitcases, Christmas ornaments and more boxes.

After a hug and chitchat and how-was-the-drive-from-Fresno, Mom’s demeanor flattened like air escaping a tire.

“I’ve lost a box.”

A box. There were scores of boxes in Mom’s apartment. It was a condensed version of the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones’ wooden box was stored in a government warehouse with a zillion other similar containers.

“Which box, Mom?”

“It’s the one with a thousand dollars in it.”

Ah. That box.

Mom and Dad were born in the first decades of the twentieth-century. That generation survived the interminable “Great Depression” and then saved the world from the tyranny of dictators. Though I didn’t know when I was a kid, as an adult—and privy to a few of my parents’ “secrets”—I’d learned they kept cash hidden in the house. The financial woes of 1930s demonstrated that a bank might abruptly close its doors. World War II revealed that normalcy could shift to panic and only fools wouldn’t prepare for the proverbial “rainy day.” Of course they hoarded a stash of cash.

“I think I put the box in the storage unit,” she said.

We looked. Indeed, over the next hours, we investigated the smallish storage space multiple times. We opened and closed and opened every carton of any size in her apartment. It didn’t matter if a box had been labeled Photo Albums or Kitchen Stuff, we thoroughly searched the apartment’s nooks, crannies and, like Jesus’ woman with the lost coin, lighted a lamp to illuminate the darkest reaches of rooms and corners.

It wasn’t World War II, but Mom’s normalcy had shifted to panic. Continue reading →

Adrift In The Woods

I don’t want to forget the fear.

On the final morning of a church backpack I led, by a Sierra Nevada lake four pleasant downhill miles from the trailhead and trip’s end, I became lost.

A clear Sierra sky above, Larry's muddled brain below...

Since then I’ve reviewed the actions that inexplicably transformed a routine morning jaunt to standing anxiously at the edge of an unfamiliar lake. No. Not anxiety. What gripped me was primal, relentless fear. A fear that kept shoving logic, inch by inch, beyond reach. A fear that made any sound threatening and every silence even worse. A fear that caused the friendly lodgepole pines and stately Douglas firs to blur together into a foreboding green and brown wall.

The morning began with a stroll for my “constitutional.” With toilet paper and trowel in hand, I made a series of mistakes. One blunder (ignoring landmarks around me) added to the next blunder (meandering further from camp than necessary into an area I hadn’t explored). Worst of all, when I finished my “business,” I didn’t pay attention to my first return steps, instead reminiscing about yesterday’s thunderstorm and the next day’s obligations. Dreamily pondering, I could’ve been sitting in my office or walking around the block.

But I was in wilderness. Middle Blue Lake*, where we camped, went from right there to where the heck is it?

I love California’s Sierra Nevada. I’ve hiked the Cascades and Olympics in the northwest, the rolling Porcupine Mountains of Michigan, the rugged New England stretches of the Appalachian Trail, and the “inverted mountain” of the Grand Canyon, but the Sierra remains home. The joyous interplay of sky, granite, light, and water beckon me for rambling hikes and demanding backpacks.

But there I was, probably no more than a quarter-mile from Middle Blue Lake and the companions I journeyed with, adrift in the woods. I yelled and whistled. No response. I stood still, attuned to any familiar sound. Nothing.

Then I ignored the advice of the experts: stay where you are when disoriented. After all, being lost and acting stupid are always eager to make plans together. So I started tramping through the woods, my heart pounding louder than a woodpecker searching for dinner. After slogging through dense trees and thick underbrush, I proved the experts wrong. I found a lake. Well, half wrong. The lake I stumbled onto, about the size of a baseball infield, was definitely not Middle Blue Lake. Continue reading →