Punching the Box


Man in a Box by Jan Stussy, 1977. Image courtesy of Calabri Gallery. Please click here to go to their site and see more more work by Jan Stussy.

All we know for certain of life are the beginning and the end. It’s very similar to the genesis of my stories. First comes a person, usually born in my mind with a name and little else. At that moment of birth, I typically know how the story begins and how it will end. Everything in between is a mystery to me, an adventure I embark on, until, usually years later, I can look back and see it all as a whole creation, a life lived on papers and screen, ready to share with others.

This parallel came to mind this morning, when I heard of yet another mother finding her son’s body after he had shot himself. What it is that can lead a young man to put a gun to his head and pull the trigger? He had so much of life ahead of him, and had already beat the odds. With his family’s help, he had climbed out of the underpriviledged, immigrant ghetto, to not only get into the University of Pennsylvania, but to become an honors student. What might he have done with the decades ahead of him? Who would he have loved, been loved by? What might be have achieved? We’ll never know. He wrote the ending of his story before it ever really began.

Life – and my stories – are a long box. At one end is birth, the other death. The bottom, top and sides are the earth where we plant our feet, the sky where our dreams soar, and the far horizons that stretch as far as our vision will allow.

But the box isn’t an immutable thing. By our actions and our hopes, we can push at its limitations, to define who we will be, how our lives will be shaped. Some lives and stories kick at the sides, breaking through to further horizons. Some punch at the sky, seeking new dreams. Some simply dig into the earth, to bury themselves away, covering their heads, blinding their eyes, filling their mouths with nothing but the soil of their graves.

As the author of my stories, I can choose the size and shape of the boxes that I write. If only that young man had understood that he too was the author of his own life, that he had a choice. He could have broken out of the box enclosing and defining him. Instead, he decided to put a gun to his head.

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