One of my biggest imperfections is my soft heart.
I am a sentimental pack rat.
I find it difficult to let go of pieces of paper that bring back memories and emotions.
My wife, the Commander Supreme, is trying to see the future.
She tells me, “William, our children are not going to want to sort through all this stuff when we’re dust.”
I know she is right.
But, the other day she raised the degree of difficulty for my paper departure decisions.
The commander gave me a box of cards, letters, photographs, and some paper scraps.
I think she knows in her heart that going through this box will be tough for me. She has given me time and patience.
I did my initial skim of the contents, and I had to stop.
So with February giving us a lousy stretch of winter weather, I sat down to take another look.
This deeper look only tugged at my heart more.
I started with notes of thanks from two elderly neighbors from when we lived on Stuart Hall Road. Immediately, I was captured by the remarkably beautiful penmanship. Those notes really made me think. The notes confirmed their love for our children, the Commander’s baking, and the assists we gave with yard work in the fall and winter.
But, one of those notes really stuck with me. The writer stated in appreciation of our kindness that we must have had really good parents. That was a keen observation as the Commander and I were blessed with good, kindhearted role models in our parents.
In this box, are a couple of cards from one of the sweetest ladies ever to grace this planet, Margaret Harrod, my grandmother. The cards were signed in pencil, but the words are still clear. Time has not smudged her love.
We called her Granny, and the more I age, the more I respect her perseverance and endurance.
She raised my mother, and my mother’s sister and brother on her own. When abandoned by her husband, somehow, Granny with her children made the journey from Mississippi to North Carolina.
Another sweet lady was my Aunt Evelyn, one of my father’s sisters. The program for her funeral, postcards from traveling, and birthday cards are in that stack. In one note she apologized for not being as quick on her feet as she used to be when she and my father met our family at Disney World.
My mother’s sister, Mildred, and her daughter, Lora, loaded the box too.
Mildred was one of a kind.
She reminded me of Shirley MacLaine’s character Ouiser in the movie Steel Magnolias. But, under her tough veneer, Mildred was one brilliant woman, with a heart that always said in those notes that she loved me.
Lora still is one of kind.
She and her husband Graham were life long educators in Greensboro. They are two peas in a pod. Lora’s notes and cards convey love too, especially toward our children and in news about her grandchildren.
A newspaper clipping announcing the marriage of my sister is in the box. She is stunningly beautiful in that photograph, and she still is today.
There is card from students I taught where my teaching career started at Martinsville Jr. High School. They were acknowledging my marriage to the Commander Supreme.
Reading those names took me back 46 years. Some of those students really challenged my classroom management. But, in a unique way, I learned from their toughness. And reading those names made me wonder how they have managed life.
The box also has 25 Christmas card photographs of my Uncle John’s family. Each photograph shows John and his wife, Hedy, surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Those cards are all about the progression of love.
Shoved in a big envelope is a large assortment of cards and notes.
One of my favorites is a postcard from Ocean City, Maryland. It is from Jeffrey Callow, son of our college friends, Dan and Judy. Jeffrey is thanking me for a tape I made for him of songs by the Beach Boys. Now, Jeffrey has a son who I’m told has an ear for the Beach Boys too.
Seventeen years ago, I turned 50. Two cards in the box honor that occasion.
One is from my wife’s oldest sister, Susan, and her husband, Larry. And the other one is from Amber, the secretary at Lakeside Elementary School. I will never toss those cards. Susan and Amber have something very sad in common—the demon of darkness pushed them to take their own lives.
I expect to take some more time and go back through the box again. If I really work at it, I reckon I might be able to reduce the contents a tiny bit.
But, the more I think about the box, the more I realize the box contains something very, very special—love.
Nothing in the box is hostile, toxic, or negative.
That box, its contents are grounded in love.
How fortunate I have been to be surrounded by that love at every stage of my life. I imagine my life would have been quite different if not for that sustaining love.
Makes me wonder about some of the difficult people and the challenges of the moments I encountered with them. I wonder if anyone had loved them— even a tiny bit.
One of my favorite songs on the Beatles Rubber Soul album is “The Word.” The song is simply about the word—“love.”
In the song’s lyrics, the writer ask this question: “Have you heard the word is love?”
Is it possible that the troubling headlines we read everyday might be solved by asking a question about love at that very moment?
I know what you are thinking, Bill, you clearly have lost your mind.
That is quiet possible, but ask yourself this—what might the world look like if we were better at inserting love into our decision making?
Should love just be boxed up as a bunch of cards, notes, and letters passively stored on a shelf in a basement or in the corner of an attic?
Or should love be a word of action, a word of change that pushes us to reassess how we make decisions in difficult situations with people who haven’t been loved?
I think I’m obligated to share the love from that box.
How about you and your box of papers that show how you have been loved—aren’t you obligated to share that love too?