One shouldn’t underestimate the power of a paper clip.
I sat down at my computer Friday morning to see how much e-mail and coffee I could take in before the first bell rang. I didn’t get through much because the message at the top of my inbox was addressed from a student who graduated two years ago.
She was on my newspaper staff during her senior year. She was an instigator.
That year, my students wanted to hold a retro-themed Valentine’s Day party, and she was one of the leaders. They organized a carby carry-in and decorated brown paper bags until they weren’t brown anymore. Finally, they proudly hung them along the whiteboard of my classroom.
It was just like elementary school. They couldn’t wait to drop their cards and candies into the bags of their loved ones.
Although a staff party seemed to be a sweet and playful idea, the extensive planning did smell of distraction. I was more concerned about meeting our deadline. And I was worried: they weren’t.
So on the evening of the 13th, with the newspaper finally finished, I wasn’t thinking too much about the following day’s festivities. With all of its pre-packaged excess, Valentine’s Day has never been a day I’ve enjoyed thinking too much about. After all, it’s a holiday which comes during a winter flu season — and with just a touch of nausea.
At any rate, the thought of buying Disney-licensed cards and matching chocolates for my newspaper cherubs never crossed my stone cold heart.
Until the next day when V-Day guilt stormed my beaches.
What could I do? I ransacked my classroom, digging through my desk drawers and burrowing through my locker closet for random odds and ends to express my undying and doting affection. For each of them.
Somehow I did it. Or so I hoped.
Back to the email. My former student told me that she had now started her first year at college. She had spent the previous year doing service work in Thailand. But her heartwarming e-mail mostly described that famous (infamous?) staff Valentine’s Day party, which I, until now, had forgotten.
At any rate, I had placed a clear box of colorful paper clips in her bag. She wanted me to know that she was using them to clip her essays together before handing them to her professors. But, more than that, she wanted to thank me for the goodness that she felt in my class.
She assured me, too, that she was still “looking for the good”. That lesson has always been my favorite to teach over the years, so it warmed my heart to know she still had it clipped, snuggly, inside hers.
And I was thankful, too, that I had given her paper clips because those little wiry gadgets have taken on a new meaning during my teaching over the years. When I’ve seen students battle crises, whether I know the details or not, I’ve often quietly slipped them a single paper clip.
“It’s not an ordinary paper clip,” I tell them. “It’s a Paper Clip Prayer. To hold it all together. Keep it with you. I’m praying for you.”
Sometimes that’s all. And then the paper clip goes off into a notebook or a pocket. Or maybe into the trash.
But it doesn’t matter. The paper clips are all out there. And so are my prayers.