Friday, March 30, 2018

Easter Bear

My dad was not a collector of things. When he passed away, there were very few treasures to sort through - some favorite books, his baseball mitt, golf clubs, guitar, and a handful of sentimental novelties, including this

A souvenir polar bear, purchased from the San Diego Zoo in the 1950s.

I first held this heavy pewter bear sometime in the mid 80's, when I was about 5 or 6. It had arrived in the mail in a small box, hand-addressed to my Dad. On the return address label was the name Joe Jeffries.

This was curious. The Jeffries, Dad recalled, had lived down the street from his family in Phoenix when he was a boy. He and Joe had been occasional playmates, but weren't particularly close, and hadn't been in touch for over 20 years. What could he possibly be sending him in the mail?

Inside, wrapped in newspaper, was the bear, and a handwritten note. In it he reminded him that when they were young, Dad's parents had taken him to the San Diego Zoo to see the polar bears, and that he had come home with this souvenir. Joe recalled how much he loved that polar bear, and wished that it was his. And that one day, when my dad wasn't looking, he stole it from him.

Since that day, he said, and for the next thirty years he felt guilty. He had carried the bear with him through every move and phase of his life, and was happy to have finally tracked him down to return it and ask for forgiveness.

Of course my Dad carried no ill feelings. He had forgotten all about the bear, and wrote back immediately, expressing his gratitude and how touched he was by the gesture.

I love this bear. It was one of my favorite things to play with as a child, and I especially love the memories it triggers of my dad telling me the story of its return to him. But it also makes me sad. I always hated picturing little Joe Jeffries encumbered by his mistake, and carrying it into adulthood.

It's such a small thing, and seems like such a futile burden to carry. And yet, I wonder how often I've needlessly carried burdens of my own. Stupid things I've said that play in my head like a broken record. Mistakes I made years ago that still haunt me. Arguments I wish I didn't have, guilt over missed opportunities, or blunders as a parent that keep me up at night with remorse.

This Sunday I won't be telling my kids stories about the Easter Bunny, but we will be talking about the bear. Of course they'll be spoiled with chocolate and eggs and baskets and that stupid grass I'll be vacuuming up until December, but they will also be reminded that Easter is about the Redemption made possible by Jesus Christ, and that because of Him they don't have to live their lives burdened by the mistakes they will inevitably make, or the mistakes of others.

He paid the price for all of it, so they won't have to. There is always hope. There is always change. There will always be fresh starts and second chances and new beginnings.

I was curious what connection there is between bunnies and Easter, and the best I could find on Google was their identity as prolific breeders, which I think would resonate with my children about as much as Easter grass resonates with me.

Bears, on the other hand, emerge at springtime from the hibernation of winter; rested, renewed, and ready to welcome the beauty and demands of a new season.  I find this far more symbolic, and another reason to adopt them as our family's new Easter mascot. This heavy statue that for so long symbolized the weight of Joe's mistake, now represents for us the gift that makes ours bearable.

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