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Sturdy Love in a Flimsy Brown Bag

BY Winn Collier Journal resilience
BY Samuel Martin

Is it odd for a mom to pack her 22-year-old son’s lunch?

I was working two jobs to pay my way through graduate school, and three mornings a week, I'd rise long before the sun, pack my books, and drive the 101 miles to classes. Before walking out the door to the garage, though, I’d open the fridge and there on the top shelf would be a brown bag lunch my mom had packed the night before.

My mom saw me hacking my way not only through a grueling academic and economic challenge but also recognized—in ways that only a mother’s intuition can—that I was enduring a treacherous, dark season of the soul. Mom didn’t know what to do. She didn’t really understand, certainly didn’t have any answers, but she could sense how I felt alone, unmoored. I was drowning; and my mom, the woman who’d always fixed and mended and helped me maneuver life, had no idea how to help.

But you know what she could do? She could wrap pizza in aluminum foil or pile
Parmesan crusted chicken in Tupperware. And after spending hours knee deep in esoteric textbooks and grappling with big, perplexing ideas, I’d grab a quiet corner in the student building and open my brown bag. Sometimes, tucked next to a ham sandwich or leftover meatloaf, I’d find a little note penned in her elegant cursive. One still sits in a box in my closet, a post-it size card bordered with lavender orchids. She didn’t say much, just a line or two of encouragement. And then, at the bottom: I love you.

We now have two sons entering adulthood, and they are moving into this big, tumultuous ocean of a world, just as I did. As their problems grow more complex and their story more unique, I hate to think of those days when I won’t be able to comprehend their struggles or will feel entirely inadequate and helpless in response to their pain. But I am not helpless. None of us are truly helpless when all that’s required of us is to be present with those we love. Each of us can find our own simple gestures that say, I see you. I’m with you. This road is hard, and I don’t know the way forward—but you are not alone. It’s amazing how much sturdy love you can give away in just a flimsy brown paper bag.

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