I was 5, going on 6, and crazy about ships and grown-up things like mechanical pencils. So to my young mind, hardly anything could have been better than to board the Queen Elizabeth in New York for the five-day voyage to Southampton, England. As the ship eased out into the Atlantic, we left the upper deck and made our way below to our cabin. On the way we stopped for a look in the ship’s store. There in the glass case under the counter I spotted a display of beautiful mechanical pencils. Each one, on its pearly barrel, had a sketch of one of the ships of the Cunard line. I had to have one of those pencils. Unable to find one displaying the Queen Elizabeth, I settled for a pencil commemorating the Lusitania and persuaded my father to buy it for me.
From the first moment I held it in my hand I was proud to own it. I remember turning the chrome end to the left and right so that the lead appeared and disappeared, and adjusting it so it was exactly right when I tried to write or draw with it. Owning that pencil made me feel a distinct cut above my older sister.
During our short stay in England we visited an elderly widow and had afternoon “tea” in her home. The grown-ups were talking, and I was bored. Then I remembered my pencil. I took it out of my pocket and began the familiar routine, twirling the lead out and turning it back in. Apparently I was sitting near our hostess, for the next thing I remember is handing her the pencil. She became strangely pensive as she turned it over in her aging fingers. Though I guess I didn’t really realize it, the atmosphere in the living room had changed into a quiet sadness.
After a moment she spoke. “You know, my husband went down with the Lusitania.” The next thing I remember, the unthinkable began to happen. My father took me aside and began whispering unimaginable things! “It would mean very much to the lady if you would give her your pencil. . . . I ’ll get you another one. . . . It’s up to you.”
And so I left without my pencil but with a strange, mixed sense of contentment.
I still think sometimes about that pencil and the woman in England. I think about what my father asked me to do, and I wonder: Was it wise of him to do such a thing? What effect did the experience have on me?
I know how some would answer these questions, and I know how others would. But I know this was one of the formative moments in my life. That day I learned at least a little about loving, being unselfish and even sacrificial. Whenever I think of that English afternoon and another long-ago afternoon near Jerusalem involving a Father and a Son, the message is clear again.
“God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
By Will Eva
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