The boxes we build

They came into the cry room about 20 minutes after the service started.

It wasn’t completely packed — there was still room for them, so they occupied two empty chairs at the end of the second row.

They didn’t have any kids — and were but kids themselves. Teenagers. Obviously looking for a place to hide to avoid being at church. Perhaps their parents had forced them?

She had frizzy, greasy red hair, pulled into a worn scrunchie. Dirt under her nails. Bad posture. He had acne and glasses and well-worn clothes. Their body language told me that their social skills were lacking. They slumped, frowned, and acted strange — a strange that could be concerning. Were they picked on? Were they angry?

Other parents popped their heads in with fussy toddlers to see if there was room. There would be if the two teenagers weren’t hiding out, I thought. I was disappointed with my own irritation.

The boy left briefly and returned with a shoe box full of old purple church bulletins. They whispered something — and then, they started folding.

Page after page, they bent the corners, licked the creases and ripped the papers apart. The pastor talked, the parents herded their young — and the awkward teens folded.

I found myself distracted by them. It’s hard enough to focus with children, I thought.

Another mom popped her head in — and they offered their chairs and retreated to the floor. I couldn’t see what they were folding, but they kept their heads down, occasionally whispering, looking up, staring into space.

I could focus better when they moved from the chairs in front of us. I didn’t have to keep Kate from trying to reach for their pile of pages. I was more… comfortable.

Soon mass was over.

Most of the parents had cleared out — and we were alone with the two awkward teenagers who barely made eye contact let alone smiled. And then, the boy approached my boy. Through wiry glasses, he looked down at my eager 4-year-old who simply smiled up at him.

And in his sweaty teenage hand, he held the most beautiful, intricately folded, purple origami box. Each side made of multiple pages woven together.

“See, you can take the top off,” the teenager said in a sweet voice to my boy, “You can hide treasure in it.” And then, he handed it to him. “Here, you can have it.”

I watched my son slowly take the box out of the teenage boy’s hand and realized I had also built a box today — but I had not recognized the treasure inside.

I looked at my husband and said, “Well that was a surprise ending.” He chuckled.

Because in that cry room, the most charitable person was not a rule-following mother — trying to pay attention — irritated with the people around her.

It was a boy with dirt under his nails, who spent the entire service preparing to give the best he had.

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