Solstice Stories: Woven
What makes us human? Love? Family? Responsibility? Ancestry? What makes us humanitarian? A much more difficult question.
By Carl Bosch
“Open the package, Rebekah,” her mother admonished.
“No, I don’t want to. Not yet. I’m waiting until Christmas,” Rebekah responded.
“Stop acting like a child, you’re 34 years old. You’re a university professor. Your husband just sent you a package. God knows how it even got here.”
“Assistant professor,” she corrected, “It’s a present, I know it’s a present, not a package. I’m waiting until Christmas.”
“It’s nine days until Christmas,“ her mother protested, “For God’s sake, open it.”
“No.” the final word, and with that Rebekah hefted the flat, but not unsubstantial box covered in plain brown paper.
Nine months earlier Rebekah and Colin had come as close to an argument as they ever had.
“Why must you go to Afghanistan? Why there? Why you? Why now? The place appears to be falling apart,” Rebekah demanded.
“There? Because it’s needed. Desperately.” He added, then continued, “Now, because that’s what my organization does, or tries to do, when catastrophe is on every corner. There is a food shortage, a terrible, terrible food shortage. There is COVID. There is violence. And why me? Why not me? I’m American but also British. I speak perfect Pashto. I’ve been there three times before. Why not me?”
She looked at him, her husband of eight years, and knew his heart. She had never known a more selfless man. Rebekah caught herself saying, “Your organization. Yes, the children. I agree, you know, I agree. But what about me?”
He looked at her quickly, his face both grim and sad. “That’s unfair. I love you, Rebekah, you know that. But this is children. What we do, is try to save the lives of children. All of them. As many of them as we can. Each and every one.” He turned from her, but she moved to him quickly, caught Colin from behind, and hugged him, tightly, then tighter still.
“I know, Colin, I know. I’m sorry. I’m just scared. I’m so, so scared.” He turned in her grasp.
“Rebekah, I know,” and hugged her just as strongly, “How bad can it get?”
In August, Colin refusing to leave on the last flights escaping, it got as bad as they could have imagined. By mobile phone she learned that he was in the foothills of the mountains attempting to coordinate a food supply chain that was weak and dwindling fast. The Taliban had secured all facets of life. Cell phone service, intermittent at best, finally broke completely.
As the weeks turned autumn into early winter Rebekah waited. Two letters arrived on one day during the first week of November. Colin was well, in a village far from the violence, but always at great risk. He was working with local villagers to provide minimal truckloads of essentials; medicines, food staples; organizing shelters and protection for children, with and without parents or guardians.
It was now December and the package had arrived. Almost three feet long and two feet wide; it was weighty, real. She imagined Colin had touched this box, perhaps wrapped it himself. Her mother, who had lived with them the last few years, pestered her with questions.
“Let me open it and I won’t tell you what’s inside. What if it’s important? What if he wants us to do something?”
Rebekah refused until that morning when she sat across from her mother and carefully slit the outer wrapping with scissors and lifted the lid of the box. A handwritten note from Colin sat atop a crocheted blanket.
The note read:
If this present reaches you at all or by Christmas please know that I am safe.
This is a true Afghan crocheted by a wonderful woman named Hayida from karakul wool. She is quite old and makes these to care for the many children who live in her town. She has no family of her own, but gave this to me as a thank you. It’s beautiful colors mirror the people and children who live here. I love you and I will get home. As the winter comes I spend evenings in homes, sometimes wrapping children in these blankets. And when I return I will pull this one around your shoulders and hold you tight.