Tuesday, June 06, 2006
THE WHITE PAGES
One thing a diary records with uncommon eloquence is its own end. After a friend's death a few years ago, I picked up her datebook and leafed through it. It was full of the appointments and memos to self and hastily scrawled phone numbers that daily life spawns. Full of the wildly slanted handwriting that was quite simply her. When I came upon the sudden and irrevocable whiteness of the pages she would never fill, her loss became tangible for the first time.
War is all about the white pages, the abrupt endings, the silence that echoes through decades. In this morning's New York Times there was a piece about the diary of Dang Thuy Tram, a young doctor who died on the battlefield in 1970. It was salvaged by an American veteran named Fred Whitehurst who saw Tram as "a sister and a teacher."
For thirty-five years, Whitehurst carefully preserved it. "Human to human," he said, "I fell in love with her."
Last year he located Tram's mother and returned the document to her.
"When I have the diary in my hand," the mother said, "I feel I am holding the soul of my daughter."
That statement made me think of the words we leave behind, both written and verbal. Are we, as we draft them--sometimes after much thought, but most often carelessly, creating that thing we call the soul?
Somehow it brought me back to a recent post by pohanginapete, who casts great light on any subject he considers. In this piece, he reflected on the now uncommon term "fountain pen".
I wondered: will the people who hold the words that flow from our "pens" in the future experience our fire and humanity as Whitehurst did when a translator first read Tram's diary to him? Will they feel that in some essential way, we are there "in front of them" as her mother did on opening the notebook?
If so, the pen is a powerful fountain indeed.