Heather collecting dirt from the spot in Vietnam where her Uncle died in the war. 

Heather collecting dirt from the spot in Vietnam where her Uncle died in the war. 

By Heather Box

Last Fall Julian and I were running a crowdfunding campaign to bring the Million Person Project’s curriculum abroad and it was taking up most of my mental space. I would wake up every morning with a jolt remembering that we were in the middle of the campaign and we needed to get a minimum of 11 donors per day to make our goal of 300 donors. Many nights I fell asleep with my hands resting on the keyboard and would wake up at 1am with hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh typed all across the page. Our weekends consisted of running around town preparing and mailing our perks, the gifts we gave for donations. It was a lot more work than we had prepared for.  

One Saturday afternoon I was sitting in the car outside of the art supply store while Julian bought paper for the screenprints we were giving as a perk. I wasn’t handling the pressure of the campaign very well. To the outside world I appeared to be holding up, but inside I was riddled with fear. I was worried we wouldn’t make our goal. I was worried that asking all my friends and family for money would hurt our relationships. I was worried about getting hundreds of people involved and then not being able to deliver on our program.

I put the car in park, kicked my feet up onto the dashboard and rested my face in my hands. I just tried to breathe, listen to my heartbeat and remind myself it was better to flail and fail than it was to just stay safe.

The sun was baking on my arm and hot tears fell down my face.

After a couple minutes, I looked up as Julian opened the car door. He looked exhausted. “What’s wrong Heather?” He asked in that way you ask when you know what’s wrong and you don’t really want to hear it because you relate too much and are not sure you can talk about it. I searched for a new way to answer his question and a seed of clarity must have seeped in with the sun because I said to him, “Whatever it takes to make this campaign happen, I am going to do because I want our kids to chase our legacy of love and truth, not a legacy of war. It is so sad that one of the things that connects us to so much of the world is war.”

I remembered the quiet afternoon that Julian and I walked through rice paddies in Vietnam with military maps and photos of my Uncle John in our hands looking for the spot where he died during the Vietnam War. I remembered the sound of the water buffalo bathing beside us as we collected dirt and tried to talk to my Uncle. We introduced ourselves and told him about all that had happened in our family since he died. I told him how much my Dad loved him and how much all of us cousins looked like him. I told him how we had the sort of unfortunate small chin, the kind that is a very Box trait, but doesn’t age well. I remember Julian teasing me and asking, “Really? That is what you are going to talk to your Uncle about right now??” I laughed and continued talking, telling him how much Grandpa loved and really needed him because the rest of his rebellious kids had rejected the Catholic Church and wouldn’t even take communion when they went to mass with him on occasion. I told him that Grandpa was so proud that he went to Santa Clara and stuck to his Catholic roots. I told him I wished he never went to war and that no one ever went to war. I told him I wished he didn’t have to see the things he did. Julian described to him in detail the scenery around us. He told him that things were beautiful in Vietnam and that we saw schoolchildren marching home from school in their perfectly pressed uniforms. He told him about the water buffalo bathing and the rice farmer who was asleep under a tree down by the water. He told him that the violence didn’t stay here. I filled a film canister full of dirt to bring home to my family and we both bowed a little. We told him it was nice to meet him. When I got onto the back of the scooter that day I felt proudly like a Box, someone who was rooted in a group by blood and whatever fortune or misfortune our family went through was part of my legacy.

I also remembered the early morning, a few years back, when my Dad and I navigated the Tokyo transportation system to go to visit my Great Uncle Bobby. Uncle Bobby had been a medic in World War II and after seeing such devastation in the war, returned to Japan in his early twenties to become a Catholic priest. He lived the rest of his life in Japan, helping to build a Peace Cathedral in Hiroshima and working in churches in the rural parts. I really wanted to get to know him because my Grandma, my Dad’s Mom, had died when my Dad was eleven, and I didn’t know much about her or her family. I remembered the day we sat by his bedside and he regaled us with stories of learning Japanese, and then eventually forgetting some English! We laughed and I loved watching my Dad and him share stories about my Grandma. My Dad and I spent two days with him and then went to Hiroshima to see the Peace Cathedral. Two days after we got home, one of Bobby’s friends from the church called and told us he had passed away. He thought Uncle Bobby had been waiting for us to visit before he died. When my Dad told me the news that day I remember dropping down onto the bed, looking up at the ceiling, closing my eyes and with all my might trying to send Uncle Bobby a thank you for hanging on.  I told him that it really meant something to me to know what his hug was like. I felt like I understood, just a little more, how we as a family hugged.

I thought about how I want to go to Okinawa and see where my Grandpa John, Grandma Bina, and Aunt Robin lived for a year after the war while Grandpa taught there. I thought about how I wanted to know so much more about why Grandpa decided to move there and what he was thinking when he was there. I wanted to understand myself more by going there and seeing what he saw.  

I thought about how I want to go see the cannon on the Solomon Islands that my Grandpa Bill was in charge of and still exists. I want to go there, bless my legacy and energetically set the record straight that the Boxes stand for peace and love. I want to stand there with Julian with our hands on the cannon and know Grandpa’s hands have been there and to let whoever is keeping track know that Bill Box raised his children and grandchildren to believe love, to believe that we can go anywhere in the world and see heart-to-heart with anyone else on this planet.

In the parking lot of Flax Art Supplies I told Julian that I want our kids, our nephews, nieces, and grandchildren to strike out into the world looking to deepen the connection with who they are, with us, and with their family. By visiting the resource center in Uganda where we held one of our first storytelling workshops so they can meet Kaganga John’s family. I want them to travel to Fiji and hike to waterfalls with Fenton’s kids and talk about how their parents became friends and supported each other in boldly sharing their full truths. A hundred years from now I want them to travel far and wide with our pictures and maps to stand in the same spot in the dirt we did and not shed tears, but laugh, because they know that is the spot where we made up a three-part dance routine with people from 15 different countries. I want them to sail into Marshall Islands and know that their Aunt Carolynn did that same thing 50 years before on one of her grand adventures to research plastic pollution in our oceans and create momentous change towards a healthier ocean and planet. I want them to go to tiny little town in Japan and find the school where their Uncle Marcos and Aunt Shannon taught English and roam the village where they made friends for life. I want Miles, Malcolm, Rae and Marshall to know they can just take a backpack and find a home anywhere in the world as long as they bring an open heart. Tears streaming down my face I looked over at Julian, who was staring sort of cautiously at me as I shared. When I finished, he said, with a slight laugh, “Wow, baby, okay. I was only gone for like 4 minutes. Let’s go home and blow our goal out of the water, Heather Box. Let the multi-generational love adventure begin!”

We ended our campaign with 327 donors and $35,549 dollars and we are now in Fiji running storytelling workshops with climate activists and artists from around the region. We are headed to Solomon Islands in a few weeks to work with activists on the ground there and plan to go searching for the cannon Grandpa Bill manned in World War II.

My car therapy session and the clarity of purpose it brought me has never been far from my mind since that day at Flax, and as I daydream on the long bus rides around Fiji I continue to be inspired by the future images of my yet-to-be-born descendants and the memories of Uncle John, Great Uncle Bobby, and all the Boxes and Luthers that came before me.