Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Pile

Beside me on my desk sits a pile of curious things – a journal, a sketchbook, a letter, and a handheld technological device that I almost always refer to as my phone. Each item is curious for a different but meaningful reason. All of them have one thing in common.

I pulled the journal off the shelf this morning trying to remember the specifics of a vivid memory. The occasion was Christmas Eve a few years before I was married. After an evening spent with my family, a friend of mine stopped by to wish me a Merry Christmas. She and I talked for a while, and then together we delivered a few presents to some of our friends. I returned home to finish writing the last of some homemade Christmas cards I intended to deliver before Christmas Day. Time was running out. When another friend discovered I was up late and intended to make over 45 stops that night, he offered to keep me company on my route. I was glad to have him aboard.

We started just after midnight and so did the snow. It was a beautiful storm! I don’t remember ever being out so late on a Christmas Eve before, especially not while Santa was making deliveries of his own. As you might imagine, the roads were almost empty. The streets were quiet, and the snow was white and fresh with hardly a track besides mine. Because of the storm, it took much longer to deliver my cards – five hours, in fact – but it has remained one of my favorite Christmas memories. Having a friend made all the difference.

Second in my pile, my sketchbook is a journal of a different sort. Its pages capture ink drawings of things I find meaningful or memorable. Instead of being reluctant hostages, the willing memories become my friends and remind me of where we have been. I like using ink because there is a certain feeling of permanence, a lastingness that is beautiful to imagine.

The first drawing in my present sketchbook depicts the pipe organ in the historic Assembly Hall on Temple Square. The occasion of this sketch was a concert my wife and I attended with some friends of ours this last summer. While listening to the performance, we recalled one of our first dates – a holiday season Christmas concert where we sat on a pew not far from where we were that night. The flavor of that memory was discovering how much we liked each other. Fortunate for me she liked my sense of humor. I liked her smile. At the time, I had this secret wish that I could meet a girl, date her over Christmas, and then get married. Well, I’m grateful to report that particular wish worked out for the best.

Loosely placed in my sketchbook are a collection of other related things, such as handwritten napkins, yellow Post-it reminders, ticket stubs, and notes of things I have thought. Since I often take my black, hardcover sketchbook with me wherever I go, it often acts as the repository of other related memories. It becomes the wallet of my thoughts.

The letter in my pile, mentioned above, was an item I happened to discover inside my sketchbook. I believe it was carefully placed by a friend at a time when I needed it most. Written on a pad of business stationary, the note simply said, “Thanks for being my friend! Always.” That simple phrase instantly connected me to experiences I had shared with my friend which were less recent. Like a deep sea expedition to recover a sunken ship, the life boat started tugging treasured moments until they surfaced above the ocean. Somehow, the brief letter managed to tie together a number of memories and make them fresh.

Lastly, at the top of my pile, sits my phone. Different from the journal, the sketchbook, and the letter, it seems to connect me more with the present. My children may not, but I still remember when a phone was used for making phone calls. Now, I think I use my phone more for texting and sending email. We live in a time where there seems to be a need to stay connected constantly. Why? I’m not sure yet, but I’ll confess to feeling something like Christmas morning when my phone vibrates and I have just received a message from someone I care about. I value that feeling. I can be far away from home, and then suddenly feel like I am much closer because of that connection.

Each object in my pile represents the thing I value more than anything else – relationships. There are very important people in my life. I find I am much happier when I stay close to them. Without the people, my journal would be flat, and the permanence of an ink sketch would be insignificant. This Christmas, I hope to refresh my focus on people instead of stuff. I like piles. It’s the piles of memories I have acquired with family and friends that I cherish most.

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