You Can Start Over and Over

I just started rereading Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The book is all soul and inspiration. It was written 50 years ago when Anne went to the beach to reflect on the pattern of her life. At the beginning of the book, she talks about her affinity for freshly sharpened pencils. I know exactly how she felt. There are so many satisfying parts of a pencil. Sharpening them is instantly rewarding. In seconds you get a fine point for writing crisp lines on paper. And the erasers, I love those little bubble gum pink bits designed for second chances. How great is it that you can start over with a few rubs over lead letters?

Shopping for school supplies, I loved finding those school bus yellow pencils hanging in packs of six. I carefully sharpened each one and put the bundle in a see through pencil-case inside my new plastic binder. Those pencils were the keys to the kingdom, the perfect way to test my knowledge at school because you could erase your answer if you changed your mind. They were excellent chew toys during tests too. The soft wood would give way to my molars. It was sort of like teething for your brain as you waited for the answer to erupt and flow through your pencil and onto the paper.

There were colorful pens in my pencil-case and a weapon called a protractor, but the pencils held all the power and magic. The protractor drew blood and rarely solved a problem. Despite all the colors, the pen ink was lumpy and the ink expired without warning. They also made a big mess if they broke. With your pencil, you could draw from lines from dove grey to thunder, depending on the amount of pressure you used, and there was no question about when its life would end because you watched it shrink when you sharpened it. Pencils were a necessity when the stakes were high and you had to fill in and erase the bubbles on standardized tests.

I have a Dixon Ticonderoga pencil in a little ceramic jar on my desk. It has three bands of emerald-green on the metal capper that holds the eraser in place. A sharpener created a nice rick rack pattern where the wood meets the yellow coating. It looks like the trim on a pie crust. The eraser is a bit worn from rewrites.

Simple, iconic items like a yellow wooden pencil are comforting. They symbolize safety because they bring you back to a time when worldly worries belonged to someone else. Yellow pencil also reminds me of second chances. While we can’t exactly erase our mistakes in life, we can draw new plans with pencils on a clean sheet of paper. Then we can erase and redraw them again and again. We are works in progress no matter how old we get.