Sunday, January 27, 2013

Missing Letters

My A and S are missing on my keyboard, worn by time, by lots and lots of hours spent at my desk.  This keyboard’s a little over three years old.  I’ve written four novels, close to 150 indexes, countless emails, a few short stories, several non-fiction articles, and more false starts on other projects than I can count.

If I had to take a test on what keys were where, I’d fail miserably.  My fingers know where to go.  I slow down and stumble only when I stop and think about what I'm doing.  I taught myself to type by writing on a typewriter almost 30 years ago.  I wore out two typewriters.  And then a Brother word processor, and then countless computers.  I have littered the earth with worn and broken keyboards—hopefully by creating something of value in the process.    

My desk is worn, too.  It’s only 12 years old, but I expect it will be the last desk I ever write on.  I hope so, I have done some of my best work on it.  There are two distinct patches were the stain is rubbed off, broken down by the oils and movement of my wrists.  Time.  Like water over a rock smoothing the surface until it’s slick and shiny, my presence has exposed the grain, the true nature of the wood.  The desk is less than perfect now.  Just like my keyboard.  My hands, my fingers, my body have a place to fit into, a place where I belong.  And I find comfort in that for a lot of reasons.

One of my most valuable possessions is my grandmother’s rocking chair, a gift from my mother before she died.  The chair was bought brand new in the mid-60’s, a replica of President John F. Kennedy’s rocking chair.  It was a memorial then, and so it is now. 

The chair was parked by the window in my grandparent’s modest home, overlooking the street.  She would be sitting in that chair waiting for us to arrive, after making the hundred mile trip to her house.  I can still see her, clear as day, a consistent silhouette, watching, then standing, appearing at the door with a smile on her face, and open arms to rush into. 

But the chair was more than a guard post.  It was her place in life.  She spent countless hours there, watching TV, talking on the phone, writing letters, working her crossword puzzles, her eye always on the birdbath or feeder that stood in the yard.  She spent a good part of her life—some of the best years of her life, I’d like to think—in that chair.  I learned a lot sitting next to her, or playing at her feet.  She taught me how to use a dictionary, insisted that my penmanship be legible, put books into my hands, and countless other lessons that I continue to carry with me.

The arms of the chair show her time in it.  They are rubbed away to the grain, like my desk is starting to.  Somebody else would see the flaw and want to re-stain it or re-paint the chair, restore it to its original perfection.  But not me.  I like it just the way it is, worn with love and purpose, offering a lesson of presence and meaning, every day I walk by it.  I could no more re-paint that chair than live in a house without a bird feeder present in the yard.

My A and S might be missing on my keyboard, but my fingers still know how to find them.  They are always right where they’re supposed to be, and to no great surprise, when I sit in my grandmother’s chair, my hands go right to where her’s rested, the journey, the moment complete.  

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