by Terri Winder
I am busy in the kitchen, doing what moms do: opening the refrigerator, trying to find something towards the front of the shelves that can be turned into dinner, all the while ignoring the lettuce wilting in the crisper.
My two youngest daughters are seated across the counter from me, on swivel bar stools, doing what sisters do: discussing their day, trying to find something meaningful that can be turned into conversation, all the while ignoring their mother.
Then I hear it: “A bouquet of newly sharpened pencils,” Meg says to Cait.
“What?” I interrupt, though I had heard the phrase just fine.
“A bouquet of newly sharpened pencils,” Cait repeats. “It’s a line from You’ve Got Mail.”
“Yes, I know,” I tell them. “It’s one of my favorite lines.”
They go back to their discussion and I go on with my thoughts, as that one phrase seems to bring the day — the first day of a new school year — into focus. I remember that the phrase is part of a larger statement made by the character Joe Fox in the movie, as he wrote an email to his online acquaintance, Kathleen Kelly.
“Don’t you love New York in the fall?” he asked her. “It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils, if I knew your name and address.”
I reflect how earlier in the day I stood next to a father in the check-out line at the store, his arms full of school supplies for his daughters.
I had teased him about being ready for school and he replied, “We thought we were ready, then they brought home a list of things their teachers want them to have.”
“Was a box of Kleenexes on the list?” I inquired, as I surveyed his jumble of assorted notebooks and writing utensils.
“What?” he asked, a little confused.
“I remember some grade school teachers asking that each child bring a box of Kleenexes,” I explained. “I used to wonder if they really require 2,400 tissues over the course of 180 days. That’s about 14 nose jobs a day.”
Startled, he looked at me a little askance and then changed the subject to how expensive it was, paying school fees for extra-curricular activities.
I nodded in commiseration, even though I really believe we are fortunate that our children have so many opportunities.
However, now I was thinking about Joe Fox asking, “Don’t you love New York in the fall?” and mentally listing all the reasons I love fall, including the fact that with school starting we fall into a schedule — a word that promises organization and progress.
Most of all, I imagine how sweet it would be if someone sent me a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils. There is so much potential in a handful of pencils. They can illustrate life in art or in words.
A handful of pencils could get one through high school or college. A pencil can be used for such things as signing an open disclosure statement for a teacher or figuring the equations of the universe.
The best thing about pencils is the eraser on top. It means that one never has to hold back for fear of making a mistake.
There’s another passage from You’ve Got Mail that reaches beyond my mind into my soul.
In an email to “NY152” (Joe Fox), Kathleen Kelly says, “Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life — well, valuable, but small — and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around?”
I, too, often feel like I lead a small (though valuable) life, especially when compared to so many people I know that have been to exotic places and done great things.
However, with a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils I could write a book, and by so doing, I could create life, as large and courageous as my imagination allows it to be.
I take the wilting lettuce out of the refrigerator. Turning it into a salad is as brave and creative as I will get today, but it’s a start.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll go out and buy a handful of pencils, as well a package of erasers to go on the top of each one. If nothing else, it will be a reminder that life is full of endless possibilities.