I was in sixth grade when I discovered the old journal on my parents’ bookshelf. For some reason, my mother had never used it, so its 196 pages were blank.
It immediately appealed to me because it looked like the perfect place to save poems and quotations I loved. My mom said I could have it, and I’ve cherished it ever since.
Now, the once-white paper is the color of weak tea and the spine, mostly shredded, is still holding together the pages I’ve covered throughout the years. It’s bulging because I’ve filled it with newspaper clips, love letters I wrote to each of my children soon after they were born, letters from my parents and sister, and much more.
As soon as my mother gave it to me, I took it to my room and wrote inside the front cover, “This book belongs to Patricia Smith and everyone who loves it.”
The first poem I copied was written by Emily Dickinson:
“A word is dead; When it is said, Some say. I say it just; Begins to live; That day.
Dickinson was right. The words I’ve copied and stuffed into the journal continue to live for me and, I hope, will inspire and delight my children and grandchildren throughout their lives. I don’t have much of material value to leave them, but I feel the wisdom, hope and joy the words offer will be worth more than any financial inheritance.
As for the Dickinson poem, it has a meaning that can be a lesson for all of us. Our words have power, the power to hurt or comfort; to amuse or sadden; to instruct or deceive. Words also can be calls for positive action or for violence and harm. Our children are especially affected by what we say as well as by what we do, and words can cause them more pain than any spanking.
In addition, people in powerful positions whom we’ve elected to represent us have a responsibility to use words in ways that instruct, consider and offer solutions, ask about our needs and priorities, and communicate truthfully. Lawmakers who fail to do those things don’t deserve to be re-elected, and members of the media who deliberately deceive don’t deserve to be aired or published.
Also enclosed in the book are letters and colorful drawings my children created when they were very young and had just learned how to write and to draw. There are jokes, newspaper stories with tender messages, notes from beloved authors who replied to my letters, pressed flowers, and a holy card from my mother’s funeral. I glued the holy card opposite the poem, “There is a mystery in human hearts,” by an unknown author. I wrote that it gave me the most comfort after her sudden death when I was a senior in college.
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There also are Reader’s Digest’s “Quotable Quotes,” such as, “If you want all the conversation you can handle, put a bandage on your forehead.” – Bill Vaughn
A Henry James quote, “Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost.”
A poem by Rabindranath Tagore:
“Let my love, like sunlight, surround you; and yet give you; Illumined freedom.”
Excellent advice from John Marsden, “Never cry over anything that can’t cry over you.”
And fond memories from my childhood in a poem by Strickland Gillilan that ends, “You may have tangible wealth untold, caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be — I had a mother who read to me.”
I did, and I am so thankful.
The articles, notes and poems cover love, death, hope, joy and sadness. They instruct, comfort, make me laugh and make me cry. The old journal is life in miniature, tucked between sturdy covers and held together with a kind of glue they probably don’t make anymore.
But I think the wisest words I found are by Iyanla Vanzant, “When love is present, everyone wins.”
Think about that.