Recycling love

By Sally O’Kane McClintock

I like to hold onto paper symbols of love, and  have once again recycled the 1989 desk calendar given me by my special friend, Penny. Although we haven’t seen each other for 20 years, we are in touch by e-mail almost every day. I like having this calendar of vintage wallpaper designs on my desk year after year, a symbol beyond the internet of our deep friendship. I glue new labels over the old months, as I have for the past 22 years, recycling the love that came with this gift.

But sometimes I go too far.  I remember my father’s annoyance when I kept the check for $20 that he sent us in the 1960›s.  I told him we would buy a sled for the kids and I really meant it. We did buy them a sled, but I savored the check with his familiar signature, and kept it in my desk drawer.  He never did get that account straight.

Paper comes alive for me. When I prepare seasonal note cards for friends and family, I keep them as long as I can as they await the messages I’ll write inside.  I arrange the envelopes on my table into groups of relatives, friends, and locations.  I like seeing them there, my people, and when it’s time to mail them off, I part reluctantly with the congenial gathering.

My Aunt Lois did not hold onto her cards like me.  She recycled used cards with dispatch, cutting out the names of the senders and writing her own messages all around the cut-out holes. And she was not the only one with this system in those days.  I once found a whole box of assorted greeting cards at a white elephant sale with all the senders’ names cut out and the cards as good as new, except for the holes.

My friend Penny sends her note-cards blank, writing her messages on slips of paper so the cards can be re-sent. She calls this “passing on the love.”  Although I am confident in passing on my own love, I recently found myself challenged with a stranger’s personal record of cards sent and received.

I had discovered an elegant used address book at a thrift shop. The cover was of green leather with “Address Book” printed in the middle of a gold bouquet. Inside were names and addresses and check-marks for cards sent and received from 1974 to 1979. The writing was in pencil. I had a soft eraser that would make an erasing project easy if I wished to re-use the address book for myself.  Intrigued with this artifact of someone else’s world, I paid a dollar for the little book and took it home.

I began my recycling project, erasing line by line.  I looked at the names, erased, and blew on the pages- looked, erased and blew, looked, erased and blew. Then I paused as I began to wonder about the owner of the book. Why had she stopped after six years? Had she passed away, her personal address book following her? I grew more and more uncomfortable with removing her work,  and regretted the haste with which I was deleting her love-ones’ names.

My reaction puzzled me. Why did I feel this way about a stranger who might not even be alive? I decided to e-mail my friend Penny, who is always good at getting to the core  of a problem in a wise and unusual way.

Her reply came at once. “All the names in there have found another breath and another moment of aliveness because you saw them,” she explained, “as did she who last held the little book with all her friends.”

With Penny”s explanation, my regrets vanished.  If my looking at the names had breathed some life into them, if only for a moment, then it was all right to keep erasing. Besides, the love the owner had for her people could never be erased.

So I continued recycling the address book. And as I penciled in my own list, I reflected on the ultimate recycling of love, “to love one another as I have loved you.”