A Gift For You

Donald Shephard

I have a gift for you. It is wrapped in pretty paper with a colorful design of unimaginable birds and impossible butterflies. It is tied with blue thread and fastened with three large mother of pearl buttons dyed red. Shall I tell you what is inside your gift…or not?

Let us imagine that the blue thread I used to tie your gift came from a very large ball. The ball is as large, in fact, as our planet, Earth. You will notice that since it was wound into a ball, I had to unravel or ravel the thread (ravel and unravel amount to the same thing). I had to cut off a few inches. Those few inches were hardened into an arc the exact size of a segment of the Earth’s circumference. The circumference of the Earth is so large that I could not see the difference between this arc and a perfectly straight line.

I wonder if time is like that. I wonder if time is not in fact a straight line but only appears that way because we are limited to such a small portion of it. I wonder if it not only curves as Einstein imagined but it also has more than one direction. Perhaps the lines of time crisscross just like the lines in a ball of thread the size of the Earth.

I have been using my personal blue thread to guide me out of this labyrinthine world but there is a snag, a sort of tangle somewhere. The thread shows me where I have been but it tells me little about my future path. This is one of life’s great blessings. We cannot see the future. Whoever came up with that rule gets a gold star from me.

Throughout my life there have been certain red-letter days and certain difficulties. Let us call both of these, the good times and the difficult times, “bumps in the road”. Let us imagine that a lifetime is like the blue thread and the red buttons are like the occasional bumps in the road. We slide along, perhaps in a straight line, perhaps in a lovely curve, and now and then a red button appears. “Ah!” we cry, “How delightful!” Or we say, “Oh Dear!”…or “Whoops!”…or “So sad.”

To me these red buttons represent the critical moments in a lifetime when our paths are sewn tightly to other people. Perhaps it is a two-hole button binding two lives closely together or perhaps it is a four-hole button when many lives converge.

If you are open to the possibility of reincarnation, you might imagine a button as being a place where lives cross that may have crossed before. If you sensed these crossings coming, you might call these déj­vu buttons. If you sense that a particular button is going to come again, it is a préja-vu button.

John Donne wrote that no man is an island unto himself alone and told Hemingway not to send for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee, Earnest. This thought and John Guare’s idea of six degrees of separation, might lead you to realize that all our blue threads and all our red buttons are interconnected or connected (interconnected and connected amount to the same thing.) Tug on your blue thread and the red buttons of others move perhaps slightly or perhaps a great deal. Move a red button today and, who knows, perhaps your great-great-great grandfather is overwhelmed or whelmed by pride. (Overwhelmed and whelmed amount to the same thing.) Or perhaps a particularly critical red button in your life makes your great-great-great-grandson’s life much smoother.

So here is my gift to you, wrapped in pretty paper with a colorful design of unimaginable birds and impossible butterflies. Let us make that “imaginable birds” because the great variety of birds in this world is already beyond the scope of my imagination. Let us also make that “possible butterflies” because the spectrum of butterflies this earth is equally hard to imagine. So the imaginable and the unimaginable, the possible and the impossible, at various times, all amount to the same thing.

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