ValueSpeak - A Weekly Column by Joseph Walker

ANOTHER UNWRITTEN STORY

So there I was sitting at the year’s end, looking at the blank computer screen in front of me and wishing it would magically fill with well-chosen words, when this old guy walks in behind me.

At least, I THINK an old guy walked in behind me. Sometimes when I’m writing this column late at night, the line between concentration and sleep gets very, very thin. (I know – NOT a big surprise. You probably have the same problem when you’re reading it.  Am I right?)

“Don’t do that!” the Old Guy exclaims.

“Don’t do what?” I ask, more than a little startled.

“That!” he says, pointing to the word “So” on the computer monitor – the only word I had written at that point.

I assumed my elderly guest was computer illiterate and thought I was working some kind of magic on the screen (fat chance, huh?).  So I tried to explain it in basic terms: “It all started back in the 1400s with a man named Gutenberg – perhaps you knew him?”

“There’s no need for condescension, young man,” the Old Guy said testily.  “I’ve been dealing with computers and word processors my whole life.”

Yeah, right, I thought – as long as you count an abacus as a computer.

“If you’re so savvy,” I said, “why were you trying to stop me from writing – unless, of course, you’ve read my stuff, in which case I completely understand . . .”

“I couldn’t care less what you write,” he snapped.  “It’s that screen I’m worried about.”

I looked carefully at my monitor.  “Is it going to explode or something?” I asked.

“Heavens no,” he said.  “It’s just that it’s so beautiful I didn’t want you to ruin it.”

“But it’s blank,” I said.

“Yes, it is,” he replied.  “And isn’t that the most wonderful thing you’ve ever seen?”

This was getting pretty strange – even for me.  So I asked him: “Who are you?”

“You don’t recognize me?  Come on – take a good, close look.”

I had to admit that there was something about him that seemed familiar, from the deep creases on his forehead to the mud caked on his slippers.  I just couldn’t place him.

“Here, let me help you,” he said. “See these lines on my forehead? They’re worry wrinkles. I got this one from worrying about the earthquake in Haiti, this one from worrying about the Chilean miners and this one from worrying about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  These lines on my arms aren’t wrinkles – they’re scars.  I got this one in Iraq, this one in Afghanistan and this big, ugly one here working security at a Justin Bieber concert.”

“And what about that bandage around your knee?” I wanted to know.

“World Cup injury. Ugly incident involving a vuvuzela. I don’t want to talk about it.”

It started to make sense: the Tiger Woods cap, the Lebron James Miami Heat jersey and those cute little “Tangled” slippers he was wearing.  I even recognized the thick mud on his slippers.  After all, it hasn’t been THAT long since Election Day.

“You’re 2010, aren’t you?”

“In the flesh,” he said.  “For now, anyway.”

That explained his appearance.  But it didn’t explain his obsession with my monitor.

“It’s just that empty screens remind me of the good old day: Jan. 1, 2010,” he explained. “My whole life was ahead of me. I was an unwritten story, a blank page, an empty computer screen – pick your favorite metaphor.  I was unknown and exciting and filled with potential.

“But now my story is written.  It’s over. Done. Finis. And I’m outta here. Not that I mind or anything – it goes with the gig. But whenever I see a blank screen I get a little crazy because I don’t think people realize what a wonderful gift they receive every New Year’s Day. It’s another blank screen. Another empty page. Another unwritten story. Each January is a chance to begin again – only you get to try to do it better.”

“But sooner or later we’ve got to start writing on that screen,” I reminded him. “And eventually, we’re all going to make some mistakes.”

“Some more than others,” he said, glaring at me knowingly. Then his expression softened. “That’s OK as long as you learn from each mistake and take advantage of the opportunity for growth through change and improvement. Otherwise you’ll just keep writing the same old story year after year. And if you ask me, that’s a waste of good, clean paper.”

He started to leave, but first he reached out and deleted the letter “S” on my monitor.

“Or,” he added before hurrying away, “good, blank computer screens.”

— © Joseph Walker


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Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen?  Home Remedies for an Ailing World.

Christmas on Mill Street A Holiday Novel!

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