E.B. White is a writer I have always admired. The celebrated essayist, columnist, and beloved children’s author is also a writer I try — try as I might — to emulate by making feeble attempts to use words the way he did.

This holiday season was different. The entire year has been different, but we remain steadfast in knowing that this holiday season still came, no matter the shadows cast by the year 2020. Hope will continue to safely guide our thoughts for family and our community. That’s the Downeast way!

And it is because of this that I am reminded of a letter E.B. White wrote in reply to one he had received from a man who had lost faith in humanity, a man who had lost hope. It was March 1973, and White wrote his reply while living on his 44-acre saltwater farm in North Brooklin.

All of White’s writing has a heartbeat. Every word he placed upon the page in his lifetime holds a time-stamp within it, a moment that is eternal. That moment then moves outward and touches another: healing pain, bestowing happiness, soothing sorrow or strengthening faith.  This letter is no different

Life is a clock, and hope is that internal mechanism within life we must wind every day. White knew this — hell, he lived it — and everything he wrote said so, even this direct, concise and heartfelt letter written a long time ago to someone needing reassurance. 

“Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

Sincerely,

E. B. White”

At this time of year we are reminded of love from that eternal star. We remember the good in ourselves, the good in others — in our communities, towns, in cities big and small, in our country. We remember the goodness each morning when we rise and wind that clock.

The festive lights were more plentiful this season, as they brought fond memories of loved ones. Joyous celebrations of family endured, perhaps not at the dinner table or in the home, but in our minds. We smile, we endure, we remember that the page will turn and there will be a better tomorrow.

The Christmas tree was full and set near a window so everyone passing by could see it. Candles were lit, garland strung, songs sung quietly and prayers given fervently. It was that same Downeast wave during the holiday season, and all was as it should be. 

Boats were in the harbor as father and son mended traps. Evergreen wreaths went off on their seasonal and patriotic journey, some remained here to be hung upon a door or window. And the beam of the lighthouse light still reassured as it cut through the night.

The glow from Downeast homes radiated warmth and glad tidings all in thanks to a year in which, even when hard, the people living here did not give in. Downeasters get up when knocked down.  

The waters, coves, fields and mountains of this Downeast place still glisten in the morning’s light, a Christmas package always wrapped and ready for the day. The sun winds its clock, too, rising again from the east and setting in the west as we shirk off the covers and get up to greet each and every day.

The coffee is brewing on the stove, newspaper on the table, the animals will be fed and watered, fog lifts and gulls complain as pickups idle in dirt driveways. It’s a new day.

And wrapped around it all are smiles laden in memories of goodwill, love and hope. Hope for a better day, a better tomorrow and a better world for our children. We still have seeds to plant, letters to write and, as White said, “clouds will part” and we will claw our way out of this mess. So wind those clocks and cherish today.

About Author

RJ Heller is a journalist, essayist, photographer and author. His writing reflects a kindred bond to living Life Downeast along with the occasional Random Thoughts on life and society in general. He is an avid reader and an award-winning book critic, Maine Reads, who enjoys sailing, hiking and many other outdoor pursuits. — “We all take things for granted, life should not be one of them.”

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