“He presents me with what is always an acceptable gift
who brings me news of a great thought before unknown”
I am a collector of quotes…and I like to collect them just as I first discovered them. These fragments of wisdom come into my life in many ways…tiny pieces of newsprint from The Christian Science Monitor with a great idea captured in its blue shaded box from the Home Forum page (I have so many of these I'm afraid they will find solidarity and hold a prison break), a statement heard on NPR while driving to camp scribbled into the blank space that represents the Great Plains on a map of Nebraska, lyrics torn from the liner notes of a CD, a quote on the photocopied page of a good book and highlighted in neon yellow, a line from the Poet Laureate found in the magazine section of the LA Times in 1994. As I read, listen, scour, and scan they hop in their seat with their hand raised begging me with their “Oooh, ooh…I know, I know…” to choose them like a second grader who wants to write the answer on the blackboard. I pull them close and secret them away for future holding the way a collector of stamps can be found surrounded by his treasures, tenderly smoothing his finger across their faces with rapt joy.
These scraps of paper and ink travel with me in all their individuality and charm wherever I go, stuffed into a pendaflex file with pleated gussets. They are my treasures. They are ideas and I can’t get enough of a good idea. More valuable than gold to me are wise, inspired ideas. And ideas on yellowing pieces of newsprint or vellum, in Times Roman or Palatino, are more treasured than platinum or diamonds.
On sunny Sunday afternoons I love to sit cross-legged on the warm golden pine of our sunroom floor and take them out, one by one, and read them. I think about how they once fit nicely into the talk I gave to a group of college students in Colorado, or how they might work their way into an article on the Vietnam war…how I could share them with my daughters…or with you.
Earlier in the week I felt a smattering of loneliness and melancholy…whether it was the gray sky or a missed call from a friend…I was blue. I pulled out my bulging file of quotations, unwrapped the elastic band that keeps the envelope-like flap in place and my treasures from escaping, and gingerly reached in for the tattered friends I go to when human comfort seems too…well, human.
I needed a thought to hold on to…a wisdom to share on my walk around the park with my husband that day.
The first fragile slip of paper my fingers came across included a great story about a little girl on a beach. An old man found her throwing stranded starfish, one by one, back into the ocean so they could survive. The old man was bewildered and he questioned her as to why she even bothered since there were thousands of them and she would never be able to help them all, so what did it matter. She replied that it mattered to the one that she was holding…and that was enough. I held the scrap of paper this story was written on, a well-loved and handled page from one of my favorite sources--an annual spring collection of “the best of college graduation speeches”--and smiled.
“Ahhh”, my heart sang out as I remembered the look on a young camper’s face when I told this story in front of the fireplace one summer evening just before a group of Conquerors headed out on a four-day camping trip. She had been sullen and angry through the first few days following arrival, unable to find her rhythm with her fellow bunkmates, and disappointed that she had not been able to get into the major of her choice that session. With two weeks of rafting no longer available she had consented to joining a group of Conquerors…the elite mountaineering program at our camp. Having looked forward to days in her swimsuit and Tevas riding the rapids in a raft and returning home at the end of the session with sun-kissed shoulders, she was not thrilled at the prospect of what she imagined were long hikes with swollen blistered feet in too tight hiking boots and coming off the mountain with a farmer’s tan on her calves.
She had come to talk with me in my capacity as the on-site Christian Science practitioner, at the suggestion of one of her counselors who hoped that I might be able to help her find joy in a higher purpose for being at camp than a great high-altitude tan. I had spent time each day with her on the porch of my cabin/office trying to reach her heart, but that afternoon she had shared with me that she thought she should just go home if she couldn’t raft.
I had talked with her about her motives for being at camp, sharing with her inspirational ideas on selfless giving and service to others. But it was this little starfish story that changed her outlook on her sense of purpose about the long hike she would be making up Mt. Yale and across a series of 14,000-foot peaks over the next four days. I could see it the minute the moral of the story reached her heart. She could make a difference in the life of one other person. There was a hidden altruist just waiting to burst from her heart, but all the pain, sorrow and suffering that she saw in the world each day had always left her feeling hopeless... and helpless to make a difference. To suddenly think that she only had to help one person at a time was empowering…and she accepted that mantle of servant leadership with joy and wore it with honor as she headed out of camp the next morning. She was like a young crusader with a divine sense of mission. I could see it in the sparkle of her eyes and the lightness of her steps as she waved from beneath a heavy backpack filled with her sleeping bag and gear.
"What if the little rain should say,
'So small a drop as I
Can ne'er refresh a drooping earth,
I'll tarry in the sky.'"
Each of Christ's little ones reflects the infinite One, and therefore
is the seer's declaration true, that "one on God's side is a majority."
A single drop of water may help to hide the stars, or crown the tree with blossoms.
- Mary Baker Eddy
When she returned on the fourth day, she had been “made new”. Her hair style, which on arrival at camp earlier that week could only have been achieved with the help of “product” and electrical appliances, was now a mess…and she was oblivious to its complete and utter state of dirty disarray. She was completely free of the self-absorption that had held her focus before. She couldn’t wait for the evening testimony meeting where her story of helping, and being helped by, fellow Conquerors practically exploded from her heart. The next morning she was the first one to offer to help in the dishroom so that the counselors in training (CIT’s) could leave early for a planned day trip. She returned the next year for her own CIT summer and went on to be a model bunkhouse and program counselor often cited by the camp directors for her selflessness and joy.
As I smoothed the wrinkles in the soft newsprint and let the story re-sink into my own heart, I found my own renewed sense of mission…to make a difference for just one “starfish” at a time.
I collect scraps of paper on which some journalist, writer, artist, cartoonist, poet, or daughter has scribbled, typed, written, drawn, engraved or posted a string of words that have touched my heart…a sentence, lyric, phrase or paragraph that I have discovered, picked up on this adventure ….these textual tidbits are my photographs from this journey. I take them out and remember the exact moment when they first found me. My thought is flooded with the images of those moments …the faces of campers, the color of the sky, the sounds in an airport waiting area, the way the sun felt on my shoulders, the feel of her hand in mine…I remember and I am so grateful for this collection of words on scraps of paper…a lifetime of ideas to ponder and to share.