In one of the earlier episodes of The Waltons, John-Boys parents, as a special present, gave him a stack of writing tablets and new pencils. He held them in reverent, appreciative awe, and I remember, as an impressionable young teen-ager, knowing exactly how he felt.
Those gifts werent just blank, poor quality sheets of paper. To people such as John-Boy and me, who are inexplicably compelled to pour out our souls through words, such pages were pure gold.
To this day, I am almost panicky without something to write on always close at hand. I usually carry a legal pad in my purse. I can compose nothing on a computer that hasnt first bled with a primordial rush of feeling onto paper.
Last spring, while all the men were away at work or school, my mother and I, in an ongoing attempt to harness the papers of our lives, decided to take on the challenge of cleaning out every drawer and closet in this rambling, cluttered, old house, to get rid of all the junk, and especially to cull out the treasured items from the burdensome chaff.
We laughed and cried and sighed over every letter, card, drawing, picture and clipping we came to, setting up countless bankers boxes of new files, even as we reconfigured and labeled old ones.
Sitting in a chair, long past the day when she could lift or carry or even stand up without pain, my mama helped me sift through a lifetime of memories. What we rediscovered was that, in the end, the things that mean the very most to a person, that wed grab if there were a fire, are made out of paper, seemingly one of the least durable of all materials.
We complain about the endless piles of paper we have to contend with everyday. Some have even cynically called the quest for higher education a paper chase.
Letter writing now exists almost solely on a fleeting electronic screen, leaving no sweet, incredibly sensual love notes to be kept in an old box tied with satin ribbons. I pity the poor young girls who, 30 years from now, wont be able to take down a secret case of their husbandsromantic epistles, and feel their heartstrings delicately pull as they did when they were 22.
But there still remains within most of us a sincere, and sometimes desperate, need to keep at least a few token pieces formed from this delicate medium somewhere in our stash of stuff: a crayoned drawing made by tiny fingers; a card written in a dear, familiar script long gone; a photograph that almost stuns us with its veracious depiction of the way we were. Somehow we manage to find a cranny to hide one more cherished souvenir of our own journey through the galaxy.
Im still a sender of Christmas cards, (the ultimate waste of paper and postage to some), and I unabashedly delight in the receiving of them as well. Somehow, it seems so right that we should stop, in the midst of our hurrying about, and the snaring of gifts well probably be stepping over by the evening of the 25th, to use the occasion of Our Saviors birth to reinforce one tiny reminder that were the only creatures God made who even can use paper for more than a shred-fest, who are able to communicate with words in a way no other living thing does.
We can take this unpretentious invention, and employ it to shape the destinies of nations, or ease the loneliness of a solitary confinement. We can move mountains of injustice, or shake laughter from boot soles. We can hold onto our history and our hopes in a form unlike any other, because even the films and recordings of our lives undoubtedly first began as ideas on scraps of paper.
And we can also say, as we carry bravely on with our notes and pictures, that we, like paper, are stronger than we look, and we will not be afraid of white powder, or clouds of smoldering dust, or even of a blinding manmade light weve always known might come if men were foolish enough to let it happen.
So, here on this fragile piece of newsprint, let me say once more: May you, and those you love, have the happiest of holidays, and the most prosperous and peaceful of new years ahead.
(Mindy Jeffers is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)
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