That Box in the Attic
The pulse rates of historians and archivists quickened noticeably last December 11 when workers unearthed a 219-year-old time capsule from the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
The oldest known such artifact in American history, the 10-pound brass box was carefully opened to much fanfare four weeks later by conservation experts at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts—and with good reason. Inside were coins dating to 1652, the seal of the commonwealth, nineteenth-century newspapers that had been reburied with the box when emergency repairs were made to the cornerstone 160 years ago, and a silver tablet historians believe to have been personally inscribed by American patriot Paul Revere.
Now begins the “guessing game”—learned estimates of why then-governor Samuel Adams and famous Bostonian Revere chose the things they interred in the brass box. What value did they place on these material objects, and what meaning did they intend to convey to the future generation that would inevitably uncover them?
Inspired by such discoveries, I did some excavating of my own this week in the walk-in attic that runs the length of our suburban house. The search was ostensibly for the original of my 1971 Social Security card (Yes! I found it!), but actually had more to do with touching the pieces of a life much different than the one I now live.
Carefully wedged into a box that once contained 5" x 7.5" business envelopes were the odds and ends that seemed important to an Adventist teen at an Adventist school in an Adventist town more than 40 years ago. I spent an hour picking through the things I once thought important enough to save: almost every check stub from when I began part-time after-school work in my eighth-grade year; invoices from both academy and college, revealing how slowly my $1.60 per hour wage ate away at my tuition costs. Also cataloged were carefully folded grade reports that documented my achievements at an Adventist academy, and early attempts at keeping a personal ledger—primarily so that I could figure out how much tithe I ought to pay. Only near the bottom of the box, in an unmarked 2" x 3" envelope (Yes, Melinda:1 I really did have fun at the senior banquet in May of ’75), was there the smallest indication that I had gathered friends as well as springtime daffodils, gone on dates and choir trips, and found the faith to which I’ve given all my life.
Born in the peak year of the postwar baby boom, the middle child of the typical three-child American family of the era, and raised an Adventist since birth, I had saved the things that seemed valuable to the culture that shaped me—almost all of them traditional markers of effort, industriousness, accountability, and obligation. I cleaned the floors; I got the grades; I paid my tithe; I paid my bills. Missing from the artifacts of 40 years ago were markers of the things I now value most about the Adventism I still wholeheartedly embrace—the abundance I find in a personal relationship with a soon-coming Savior; the joy of worshipping and praying with others in my church community; the dialogue I seek with those who candidly disagree with me; the long-arriving knowledge that salvation is by grace and not by effort.
I am not looking back in anger, for who dares fault the path by which the Spirit led him? But I am sure—unassailably certain—that I will use what years the Lord yet has for me to coach and mentor a new generation of Adventists to value different things than those found in my personal time capsule.
What matters most about Adventism? I am increasingly fond of the answer the apostle Paul gave nearly 20 centuries ago: “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8, NKJV).2
- not her real name
- Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.