While at my mom’s and stepfather’s house this weekend, I came across the pad of paper my stepfather uses for writing letters. He uses email (in addition to making Galapagos Island calendars for charity, which you need to buy) but I guess for real correspondence he still has paper, pen, envelopes and stamps.
At first glance, that’s clearly a letter (and you need to know, I would never read someone’s letter, even if it were left lying like this on the table-top) but after half a second I realized it’s not actually a letter.
Instead, this is the backing sheet my stepfather places behind the sheet of paper on which he’s writing, to prevent the ink from bleeding through the page he’s writing onto the next clean page. If you click this, you can take a closer look:
It’s nothing more than the dots left behind by dozens or hundreds of letters, the same page placed behind the letter every time, in the same place. There’s a definite shape to the dots: the top where there’s bleed-through from a date, the first line which is clearly the salutation.
That is to say, none of it is clear, but the shape is there. The bits left behind.
My instant thought was, this is life. That’s how we know we’ve been in the world. Because the content of ourselves, our heart, is the actual letter. But this sheet of paper is our impact on the world: you can measure the breadth of a life by the bleed-through left behind, by the shapes of the impressions we’ve left on others. The ways in which our excess drips out into the ones we didn’t intend to touch.
And my next thought was, it’s pretty. This cluster of dots that makes up a letter written to everyone my stepfather has written to in the last year: it’s just very, very pretty. Not intentional, but the work of art made unknowingly by the actions of one’s soul.