The young girl sat surrounded by papers, some scattered at her feet like so many snowballs, others stacked neatly on her desk in proud pillars.
The room where she sat was small, with only the desk and a window and a door.
Her head was bent over her work, and the sound of scratching pen echoed among the four walls, creating a whispering melody that never faded away. Sometimes she crumpled a paper and fling it into white pool at her feet. Other times — but this was rarer — she lifted a paper to the light and read what she’d written with shining eyes.
Years passed, and shadows fell and faded and the sun shone and shied away, and still the girl bent over her work. The carpet of white was higher now, but so were the stacks of paper surrounding her on the desk.
Then one day the scene changed, and the door opened. A woman stepped through, older than the girl, and stood amidst the paper sea to look over the girl’s shoulder. Silence reigned for a moment.
“Let me see your hand,” the woman said.
The girl paused mid-stroke. Then she laid down her pen and lifted up her hand for the woman’s inspection.
The woman took it. “It’s stained,” she said, “stained with ink that will never come off.”
“Just like my heart is stained with the stories of those I will never forget,” the girl replied.
The woman sniffed and let go of her hand.
“Let me see your face,” the woman then said, and the girl tilted her head to the side so the woman could gaze at her profile.
“There are lines on you brow and bags under your eyes and creases by the corner of your mouth.” Her voice was displeased.
“Better to care than to be calloused, better to lose sleep than to lose heart. And those creases are from smiling, not frowning.” The girl’s voice was calm.
There was a moment of silence, and the sunlight fell like golden rose petals on the paper snowbanks.
“Let me see your eyes,” the woman demanded.
The girl twisted in her chair and looked up. Her eyes met the woman’s, and a tremor racked the room.
The woman took a step backward. “Your eyes!” she hissed. “They see!”
“That’s rather their intended function, is it not?” The creases about the girl’s mouth melted into a small smile.
The woman, however, did not smile. “They see blood — pain — filth! They see the messy brokenness of the world! They see betrayal and suffering and death!”
“And yet they also see the brokenness made beautiful and the life that springs from death and the treasures blood can buy.”
The woman drew in a long breath. “Why do you do this?” she asked, and the words rent the air.
At last the girl’s composure crumbled. Her high brow fell, and heavy lids fell over her brilliant eyes. Emotions flashed across her face — deep emotions such that the woman could never feel.
In a whisper, she answered, “I do it because words are all I have.”
She flung up her gaze again, and it burned like fire. “I see people, and I feel their hurts, and I hear their cries, and yet I cannot come to them! I cannot be a commiserating presence or a comforting hug or a tender voice. Their stories pound against me like waves on the shore, and yet I am locked up in this room, unable to go to them. But I must do something — something!
“And so, I do what I can. I use what little I been given. I write.
“I write for hope, I write for peace, I write so that eyes may be opened and wounds healed and tears shed and then dried.”
“Yes. But for me, too, because there is a fire inside me that must be let out, and once again, words are all I have.”
“But is it worth it?”
The girl gazed down at her stained hands. She felt the lines on her brow, the bags under her eyes, and the creases by the corners of her mouth. And all that her eyes could see flashed before her mind. She moved her hand across the page before her and brushed by her pen, sending it clattering to the floor. She reached to pick it up, numb, the woman’s question ringing in her ears, and her fingers closed around the familiar shape, and strength returned at the touch.
“Yes,” she said. “It is worth it.”
“Why? You can’t change the world, you know that!”
“No,” she said. “But I can touch one heart, and that one heart will pass on the message, and it will continue, and soon it will be the whole world with the fire in their hearts and the message singing in their souls. It is an avalanche of mercy, you see, and I get to be one of the small, crumbling stones that sets it off.
“Now, if you don’t mind, I have work to do.”
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