Discover more from Accidental Mentors
A Big Job for a Little Bear
A special gift in the persona of a tiny bear who made a big impact
As a final gift in the Accidental Mentors series, today’s story is in the voice of a tiny bear named Earth. She is a mentor of a different type who taught me about a creative way to respond when someone is grieving. I hope you enjoy the story of Earth Bear.
I’d heard the story of Henry Box Brown. Who in Richmond hasn’t? He was the man who escaped slavery by arranging to have himself mailed from Richmond to Philadelphia in a box. That took a lot of guts. There’s a monument to him along the James River in downtown Richmond. My human mom took me for a walk there and so I got to see it. That’s where I first heard about how smart and brave he was to travel all that way in a box so he could be free.
When I learned about Mr. Brown, I never imagined myself being mailed in a box from Richmond to Brooklyn. Yikes! I know it wasn’t as scary as what he went through, because if he got caught, there’s no telling what horrible things would have happened to him, but it was still scary to me.
A Little Bit about Me
Before I tell you my story, you should know that I’m a bear. Some would call me a stuffed animal, but I prefer to call myself a cuddly miniature bear. My name is Earth, or if you want to know my full name, it’s Earth Bear. I’m brown like the earth and that’s how I got my name. My (human) mom adopted me a long time ago in Nashville, Tennessee.
At the time, I lived in a store with my friends Sky Bear and Sea Bear. Sky Bear was blue, and Sea Bear was green. We made a striking trio. Sadly, they were adopted by others, and I’ve lost track of them. Bears like us don’t have social media to keep in touch, so I hope they’re living good lives and are as loved and happy as I am.
Meeting a New Friend
Now, back to my story. It all started when my mom decided to give me a front row seat to all her adventures. For many years, I sat on the dashboard of her car so I could see all the sights wherever she went. And she drove a lot! All around Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and even way across the country to Portland, Oregon.
I had to close my eyes a few times when we crossed the Rocky Mountains. Those were some steep and curvy roads! But we made it!
In addition to the mountains, I got to see giant redwood trees in Northern California, the Pacific Ocean in Oregon, a family of eagles in Washington, and a colorful rocky beach in Montana. I loved every adventure.
When my mom got a cool camper van, I got to sit way up high on that dashboard. From there it felt like I could see forever! When we traveled in the van, we stayed together day and night, so I never felt lonely. I really liked that part.
She even took me on airplanes a couple of times when she flew across a whole lot of water. When we finally landed, I got to see England, Germany, Austria, and even Switzerland.
I love to travel, especially when I’m not stuffed in a bag and can actually see where I’m going! I’m not complaining. I feel safe and warm when Mom puts me in a bag, but I do love to see the sights.
I was on Mom’s dashboard when I first met Janice. Whenever Janice visited my mom, the first thing she did when she got settled into the front seat of Mom’s car was reach for me. She’d pull me down off my perch and give me a hug.
“Hi, Earth,” she’d say, in the sweetest, most loving voice. “How you doing?” She’d then let me settle in her lap for the rest of the ride. I always felt special when Janice paid such tender attention to me and so we developed a bond, one that held us both even when she had to go home.
A Sad Day
One day, I heard some terrible news. Mom didn’t tell me directly, but I overheard her talking on her phone. Janice’s twin sister had died. I had met her sister a lot of times because they often traveled together. I knew that a lot of people couldn’t tell them apart, but I could. For one thing, Janice often wore orange and brown clothes, kind of like me, while her sister wore turquoise and other blue colors, kind of like Sea and Sky Bear. But more than that, her sister seemed like a very outgoing human, while Janice is quieter and shyer. Maybe that’s why she connected with me. I’m kind of shy too.
I knew that losing her sister would break Janice’s heart into a thousand pieces. I longed to be there for her—to let her hug me and hold me as she said goodbye to her sister. But what could I do? I’m just a little bear. I couldn’t even call her on the telephone to let her know how sad I was. That didn’t stop me from crying though. I cried and cried all day, even if no one could tell but me.
A Scary Proposal
A few days after I had cried my eyes out, Mom brought me into the house. She held me close, looked me right in the eye, and said to me, “Earth Bear, I want to send you on a very important mission. Do you think you might be up for it?”
I looked back at her with my little brown eyes but didn’t say a word.
“I would like to pack you up in a box and mail you to Brooklyn to be with our Sister Janice during this difficult time. What do you think about that?”
I was jumping up and down inside and wished I could shout, “Yes!” in human, but all I could do was hope she knew how much I’d like to do that.
Somehow, Mom must have figured out that it would be OK with me, because before I knew it, she wrapped me in orange tissue paper and slipped me into a small box just big enough to hold my little brown body. She then read me the note she put in the box on top of me.
The note was to Janice and said that I had traveled to Brooklyn to be there for her to hug and to give her comfort for as long as she needed me. When I heard those words, I straightened up my shoulders and sucked in my little tummy. I felt quite important and wanted to look my best for my dear Janice.
From Door to Door
Even though I had traveled to a lot of places, the trip ahead scared me. I couldn’t imagine what it was going be like to be alone in a box for all that time—or even how long I’d need to be in the box. Would I get bounced around like Mr. Brown did on his trip to Philadelphia?
From what I’d heard, he and his box traveled by wagon, railroad, steamboat, wagon again, railroad, ferry, railroad, and finally delivery wagon. Would I travel on all those things? Would some careless human put my box upside down so I’d have to stand on my head for part of the trip like Mr. Brown did? Would I even make it to Brooklyn without getting hurt or lost or smashed?
I trusted that my mom knew what she was doing but still, I called on Mr. Brown’s spirit to give me courage.
Before I knew it, I heard Mom say goodbye to me through all my wrapping (I think she was crying but I couldn’t tell for sure). She closed the box, wrapped it tightly with tape, and handed me to another human at the Fed Ex store.
Here we go, I said to myself. My little heart started to race so I took some deep breaths and prayed for the best. I’m sure Mom was praying too.
I got thrown around a couple of times, but thankfully, I mostly stayed upright. And although each time I got moved I braced myself for the worst, I got to lie there quietly in my box for most of the trip.
When my box settled down on what I hoped was Janice’s doorstep, I breathed a big sigh of relief. Henry Box Brown’s trip took twenty-seven hours, which was pretty good for mail delivery in the mid-1800s. If I counted right, mine only took sixteen—sixteen very long hours—but I made it. Now, I just had to wait for Janice to find me and take me upstairs to her apartment. I couldn’t wait!
The Surprise Opening
When Janice opened my box, I almost jumped into her arms, but I was afraid that would scare her, so I waited quietly while she read Mom’s note. Then, as she reached her hand into my box and slowly, gently, removed the orange tissue paper, my whole body tingled as her fingers grasped my fuzzy fur.
A tear dripped down her face right onto me, but I didn’t mind. That’s what I came here for—to comfort Janice in this heartbreaking time.
After she looked deeply into my eyes for what seemed like forever, she hugged me close and held me there. I think she was very glad I came. That made me so pleased.
Then after she had squeezed me for what seemed like a long time, she sat me down on her lap, took out her phone, and texted my mom. I watched as she typed:
I just burst into tears of joy!
Sister, you know what Earth Bear means to me…
She will accompany me beautifully.
I will hold her in precious care till she returns home to you.
I could only imagine how relieved Mom was to receive this text. She wrote back:
If I can’t be with you, I figured Earth could help! Love you!
And then Janice replied:
Best Gift! My heart is singing.
The orange tissue paper did not go unnoticed, either.
And I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Not only had I survived my journey, but Mom and I made Janice happy. My little body tingled with joy.
My New Life
Janice doesn’t drive a car, so she doesn’t have a dashboard for me to sit on, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get around. When Janice and I travel, she tucks me into her great big purse and positions me so I can see everything. And, oh my, I’ve traveled to all kinds of new places with Janice, including Italy, the Netherlands, and even Jamaica! And yes, I wear a mask when I travel, too, so I don’t catch any bad viruses.
Janice pulls me out when we’re on planes so I can look out the window. WOW! That’s something. I love looking down on the clouds. They look so soft and cuddly that I want to jump right into them! But I’m not sure they’d catch me, and I don’t want to fall all the way through—that would be bad. So, I just imagine landing in those fluffy clouds and enjoy being in Janice’s arms instead.
The first time Janice and I visited Mom back in Richmond, Mom assured us that we could go home to Brooklyn together. I know that made Janice glad because she still wanted me around, at least for a while.
Another New Friend
Although Janice tried to keep me to herself, one day her granddaughter found me peeking out from Janice’s bag. From then on, whenever Janice and her granddaughter see each other, I spend some time with her, too.
She has a wild imagination, so when she plays with me, I get to be whoever I want to be. It’s very fun!
In fact, she made me my very own nightgown so I have something special to wear when we sleep together. It’s brown with blue, pink, and violet swirls, and the best part is that it has unicorns on it. I love it!
Finding My Purpose
One time, after I had lived with Janice for a couple of years, Mom and I got to spend the night together. It was so good to see her again. She put my nightgown on just like Janice’s granddaughter does (although I have to admit, Mom’s not as good at dressing me).
It was nice to be cuddled up to Mom. I miss her sometimes. Janice and I travel a lot, but we don’t go camping like I used to with Mom. I miss being in the woods where there are lots of trees and other bears. Don’t tell Mom but when we’d go camping, I used to sneak out in the middle of the night to spend time with them. It was nice to be around bears, even though they were much bigger than me. But it’s OK that I don’t go camping anymore because I know I’m doing important things in my new life.
During our night together, Mom asked me how it was going and if I liked living in Brooklyn with Janice. Although I couldn’t speak to her in human, I could still speak to her in the way that little bears like me speak to people. I told her I did like living there and that I felt like Janice really enjoyed having me with her.
I told her that Janice is still so hurt about losing her sister and that sometimes when she holds me tight, I know she’s thinking about her. She even takes me to the cemetery so we can visit her sister’s spirit. I could tell this made Mom sad to hear because she misses Janice’s sister too. But I could also tell it made Mom thankful that I was there with Janice.
Then Mom asked me the most important question: what would I think about making my home with Janice my forever home? Mom said she’d miss not having me living with her again, but Janice loved me so much and maybe it would be better if I lived with her permanently.
Then she looked down and got a faraway look on her face. “When the time comes,” she said, “and Janice leaves this earth and joins her sister, you could live with her granddaughter and comfort her when she’s missing her grandmother.”
That was a lot to think about.
I knew that comforting people is what I was meant to do, and so, even though I liked living with my mom, I said yes.
When Mom told Janice, I thought Janice was going to jump for joy. That made me very excited.
And so that’s what happened. I live in Brooklyn full-time now, travel wherever Janice travels, play with her granddaughter when we get together, and visit Mom when we can (even if it’s on Zoom!). I feel very loved by all the people in my life.
I heard that Mr. Brown found a new life too. After he arrived in his box in Philadelphia, he spoke out against slavery, published books, traveled to England, and eventually got married and began a new family. He liked to sing and perform magic. He returned to this country with his family and put on magic acts and sang with the Brown Family Singers. I wish I could have seen him perform. I bet he was very good. I am delighted he made a better life for himself by being daring enough to put himself in a box to freedom.
I’m also happy to have found the best use of me.
One of the things I’ve learned about humans is that they often have a hard time figuring out what to do when someone is sad, especially after someone has died. They want to say or do the right thing, but they can’t figure out what that is. That’s where a cuddly miniature bear like me comes in. We can be there for some people in ways other humans can’t. Give us a try sometime and see what happens. Maybe you’ll help another bear like me find their purpose too.
That’s a big thing for a little bear.
Accidental Mentors is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.