Words. To those of us who call ourselves journalists, they are our life-blood. For the writer, they are the paintbrushes that fill the blank canvas with color and create pictures in the mind. They are tools that drive the nails of information, the hammer that pushes the reader to action.
For me, words offer the vital release of emotion, a balm that soothes the mind and cures the soul. They are the poultice that offers relief from the pent-up thoughts and emotions, a way to let into the outer world all of the jumbled mass of thoughts and feelings that are there on the inside – and hopefully to change that outer world in the process.
It is, for the most part, an unsettling event when a writer has no words, when a poet cannot find the rhyme, when a journalist finds it impossible to adequately journal the thoughts and emotions that are building up inside.
But today, I find myself as just that – a writer without words.
There are simply no words to adequately express the emotion I felt when I read that unsigned letter from a reader. I tried several times to pen my thoughts about that letter. I tried over and over to find just the right way to express my emotions, to offer a measure of encouragement, and to show through my words just how touched I was at the message.
I have pondered the message in that letter for the past two days, thinking about it when I laid in my bed at night with my husband at my side, and when I woke in the morning and saw him there beside me still.
I thought about it when I got those text messages from my youngest, Kristen, and when I talked to Brandi on the phone, and when she sent me that latest cute picture of my granddaughter. And I thought about it when my oldest daughter Vickie called to tell me the latest cute thing that her five-year–old said today.
I pondered that letter when I drove to work and greeted my co-workers, and when I got a warm hug from a close friend.
I thought about it yesterday when I was making my list for those gifts I needed to buy for Christmas, and when I talked with my husband about the meal we would prepare for our family that day.
And I thought about it once again when I sat at my computer screen and tried to find the words to respond to the following:
Christmas is such a sad and lonely time of the year for me and others who don't have people who love us. To all of you who do have folks still living, I beg of you, be thankful. Cherish the times you can spend with them. If I spend Christmas with my parents, husband and two of my children, I have to go to the cemetery. I have one son left who doesn't care if I am dead or alive. I haven't heard from him in 11 years but I still love and pray for him. My Christmas wish would be for him to show up at my door, or to just get a card in the mail from him. Your articles, Dee Ann, are one of the only bright spots in my life. Thank you, and God bless you, for what you do. Please remember me in your prayers at Christmas.
Now, as I read her letter once again, I realize that there is a reason why I can’t find the paintbrush or the hammer or the words today. It is because she has already done so – with words that are far more likely to change the world than anything this writer has ever written, or ever will.
Think about her letter this holiday when you sit down with your family and friends, when you wrap that gift from your son, or when you put that candy in your little girl’s stocking. Think about her when you see your husband lying next to you, and when you get a warm hug from a loved one.
Think about her and all of those others out there who feel alone and unloved this Christmas, and be thankful.
But be more than thankful. Open your eyes and your hearts and your homes to someone who needs you. Set another place at your Christmas table for a person who otherwise would eat alone.
Wrap another gift under your tree for that person whom Santa seems to have forgotten.
When you go to that Christmas cantata or that play or to see that nativity at your local church, take someone along who might otherwise sit at home alone tonight – again.
When you celebrate this Christmas, stop and think of that unsigned letter, and ponder its message to us all. And to the writer of that letter, I have a special message today, a message that still falls woefully short of the words I’d like to say.
My dear friend, you will never, ever know just what your message has done in my life.
You will never fully see just how much your letter has altered the pattern of my thoughts, softened my emotions, and changed my Christmas.
You have made me see again, know again, feel again all the thankfulness and blessings and love that are present in my life.
You have made me stop and count my blessings and thank God for every little, taken-for-granted one of them.
And you have shown me that I have been so wrapped up in my busy life, in my job, in my daily obligations that I have failed to see those around me, to see the pain and the hurt and the loneliness in the eyes of others.
You have reminded that the real gift we should give this Christmas is our warmth and our compassion and our love – and our time.
Your letter may have left me without adequate words to share today -- but you, my friend, you have found just the right words to change everything.
Dee Ann Campbell is publisher of the Choctaw Sun-Advocate in Gilbertown, Alabama.