On his 5th birthday a boy was given a magic box. It was plain and brown on the outside and had all the appearance of a normal box, only his parents told him that it wasn’t. They told him that his box was special and powerful, for inside it was the source of all goodness in the world.
They told him that this special box would guide him throughout his life. It would listen to his thoughts, grant him wishes, comfort him during hard times, and fill his heart with joy. However, his parents also warned him to never open the box, for they knew this would destroy the magic within. And so from a young age, the boy readily obeyed his parents for fear of ruining such a precious gift.
As the boy grew older, however, there were often times when the magic nature of the box was called into question. Sometimes the boy wished for Christmas presents that never came, for people at school to talk to him that never did, or for a dad that wouldn’t drink so much. And yet, despite these trials, the boy came to rely on the box even more and grew more certain of its magic.
He was so sure he had done something to anger the box so that it didn’t work right. Maybe he had been too careless with it. Maybe the magic flew out when he had accidentally dropped it. And so the boy began to spend more time in his room talking to the box. It gave him a sense of comfort that he enjoyed so much that he decided to take the box with him wherever he went.
Soon he was a teenager who carried his box with a sense of certainty and pride. He would bring it to school and to work for everyone to see. He would sit with it during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He would even take it to bed to sleep with at night. Although people would often joke with him and tease him about his box, he knew they just couldn’t see what he saw. They could not sway his mind or break his spirit, for he had a truth that none of them could touch. He had experienced firsthand the influence of the magic box in his life.
It wasn’t until college that things began to change. He still walked around with his box, but somehow he was less confident and self-assured. Maybe it was his professors or the courses he took, but he found himself dwelling more and more on the mystery of the box – as if it was a puzzle that had to be solved once and for all. The more he thought about it, the more suspect the box’s nature became and the less he felt its power in his life.
One day as a kind of field trip he visited a warehouse with his classmates. The warehouse was full of boxes of all different colors, shapes, and sizes from different regions of the world. He found it interesting at first, but then something unexpected happened. To his utter shock and horror, his professor told the class that all of these boxes in storage had been there for thousands of years, and that each of them was once thought to be magic by the people that lived during the time they were made.
In that moment the boy looked down at his own box – no longer with a sense of reverence or comfort, but a sense of creeping doubt. Had the source of comfort and joy throughout his life merely been an old piece of cardboard? It was almost too much for him to take.
Later that night he began to investigate the history of the box his parents had given him. He found the exact measurements and learned when and where it was made. He even traced it back to the original manufacturer and emailed the company asking questions. At first he was convinced that he would find some proof of its magical qualities, but the deeper he dug and the more books he read, the less confident he became.
When dawn finally broke through the library window where he had been up studying all night, he decided to do the unthinkable: he made up his mind that he would open the box and take a look inside. He knew that he shouldn’t, but he was truly desperate for answers.
As he reached for the cardboard flaps that were taped shut, a mixture of fear and excitement took hold of him. As he slowly pulled back the tape he could see the anger in his father’s eyes and hear his mother’s voice crying softly: “Don’t do it, son.” And yet he was doing it. He had pulled back one of the cardboard flaps. Tears streamed down his face as he stared into the open hole, but he couldn’t see a thing. It was then that the sunlight shifted ever so slightly, slowly spilling over the bottom of the box. He waited with baited breath. It was empty.
“Empty.” He said the word aloud.
It was a heavy word. Heavy and hollow, like a dugout canoe that had suddenly sprung a leak. He felt himself sink into his chair as childhood memories played back in his mind, analyzing each one with cold rationality. He felt the unshakable power of the box magic begin to shrink and dissolve, like paper he accidentally threw in the wash. The magic was gone.
Years passed and the young man grew angry and bitter. He felt betrayed on a level he could not express. He wanted to run into the warehouse and burn every single box to the ground. He wanted to scream at his parents at the top of his lungs. He wanted the world to feel the ache of his pain and know the depth of his loss. Sometimes he would even spot people walking down the street with boxes just as he did, and would purposely knock them out of their hands just to see the shocked look on their faces.
Eventually he grew tired of being angry and bitter and began to take solitary walks in the park to calm his mind. On these walks he would reflect on his past and try his best to see the good and the hope through the pain and ugliness of life. He no longer had the will or energy to go on hating, but instead devoted his mind to his own self-improvement and to the improvement of mankind.
One day, as the man was walking in the park he spotted a young boy sitting on a nearby bench. The boy was holding a plain cardboard box just as he had done – the look of calm assurance washing over his hopeful face. The man slowed his pace and glanced at the boy. He reminded him too much of himself, he thought, and so he stopped to say hello.
“That’s a fine box you’ve got there,” the man said.
“It sure is!” the boy replied.
“I’m bet your parents told you it was magic.”
The boy looked surprised.
“How did you know?” the boy asked him.
“I was told the same thing when I was young.”
“Then were is your box now?” the boy inquired.
“I threw it away,” said the man.
The boy looked even more shocked this time.
“Why would you do that?!”
“I found a different kind of magic.”
“Really? What kind is that?”
“The kind of magic that can’t fit in a box like yours, no matter the shape or color. The kind of magic that wells up from deep inside and grows larger and taller than the trees and higher than the highest clouds; the kind of magic that stretches to the stars and beyond until it covers the whole universe with love.”
The young boy looked back at the man and scrunched up his tiny face as if he was thinking very hard. Suddenly he blurted out a response.
“I got it! My box is too small!”
“What?” asked the man, perplexed.
“My box is too small. I just need to make a bigger one; one that will cover everything like you said.”
The man laughed heartily as if he had not laughed in years. When he was finished laughing he sat down next to the boy and put his hand on his shoulder.
“In that case, do you mind if I help?” he asked. “I happen to know a thing or two about boxes.”
“Okay,” said the boy. “Let’s build it together.”