A Message from E.B. White
A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just begins
to live that day.
– Emily Dickinson
On this chilly-for-Alabama, first day of 2015, I have been reading about E.B. White, famed journalist, writer, essayist of the mid-twentieth century. If you know Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little, you know E.B. White.
White’s letter below, penned on March 30, 1973, at age 74, rallies his summons for writers to persist in uplifting the human spirit. It seems fitting to print it on this first day of a new year.
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.
E. B. White
What inspiration to writers everywhere who try to put words on a page, who struggle for hours over the perfect adjective or the correct grammatical structure. More importantly, it is fuel for those of us who muster the courage to write something believing that others will read it with pleasure or profound interest.
Here’s to E.B. White, gone but certainly not forgotten among writers and readers. He champions a steady persistence to maintain the vibrant, predictable regularity of our lives by such a simple act as winding a clock (which few of us do today). Not so long ago, the predictable action was gathering the newspaper from the front porch steps. Today, the normalcy is evident in checking email or accepting a friend on Facebook or sending out the wittiest Tweet. Who knows what’s coming next, but I suspect the readable word will find its indomitable spirit in the process. Amid floods, earthquakes, airplane crashes, radical extremism, political disillusionment, mistrust, lack of leadership, human trafficking, slaughter of innocent victims, ferry disasters, gun mania, and false entertainment idols, let the written word stand valiant, riding the white horse and symbolizing the best of our world cultures.
Writers must not stop writing, nor readers, reading in whatever form. We must herald the heart of man, the persistence of good over evil, the spark of energy that comes when a kind deed brushes gently against another. We must propel our world to a better place, day by day, simple task by simple task, with fervor, with conviction, with steadfastness. If we don’t, who will?