12/21/07 5:55PM By Stephanie Montgomery  Download MP3
(HOST) About forty years ago, commentator Stephanie Montgomery spent an
afternoon picking blueberries at a farm in Maine. By evening,
she had two new, lifelong friends in Helen and Scott Nearing.
(MONTGOMERY) In 1992 Helen Nearing sent me a Christmas card in which the image of a golden palace announced formal Holiday Greetings and Best Wishes for the New Year from an Indian Maharani, and the New Year was 1946. Beneath the Maharani's flowing signature, Helen had scrawled with characteristic haste: And from Helen too! I didn't know if I was more surprised by Helen's seasonal gesture or by her eccentric recycling idea.
To be fair, neither the card nor Helen actually said the word Christmas. Presumably the Maharani was Hindu and I knew Helen had spent much of her youth in India. She was raised in a Theosophist household and dabbled in Buddhist practice before settling for a firm belief in reincarnation. On the mismatched envelope, Helen had scratched out her address in Maine and sealed the flap with yellowed cellophane tape. I realized she must be sorting through the past, reviewing a lifetime of correspondence.
Helen's husband, Scott, had died a decade earlier in his 100th year. He'd been an economist, political radical, and vice-presidential candidate; also an author, sugar-maker, woodsman, vegetarian and organic gardener. He'd traveled the world with Helen visiting people and places of spiritual and political consequence.
I picture Helen looking out to sea from her house on the Maine coast. Beside her, rise neat but precariously tall piles of letters. Her newest old tabby cat swats at her pencil as she adds her name to the Maharini's - with zest. And now, years later, I think I've finally gotten past the eccentricity of her gesture and understand the powerful message hidden in her joke.
Helen saw the world through the eyes of an animist. In forwarding that particular card, she was recycling much more than paper. She was passing on energy - willing affection and hope up and out from the past and propelling them into the present. I bet she tucked that envelope into the mail with the soaring thrill a kid feels launching a kite - racing across a field, hoping to catch the wind.
So now, 15 years after receiving the Maharani's Best Wishes… And Helen's too!, I ask myself what I've done with this extravagant gift. I hope I've done it justice by striving to be in and of the world as intensely as possible.
Because, while science tells us energy cannot be lost, I think the less measurable energy of human warmth can and most often is lost. We forget. We let go. We, the living, are just too busy to channel all those passions gone to ground. That's okay. After all, life is always hungry for more life - new life.
But, luckily people do leave traces of their lives. Letters and journals, poems and stories - even greeting cards - have the potential to preserve and pass on warmth as a gift to the future.
I'm not yet recycling all my holiday cards, but I can't resist offering Holiday Greetings and Best Wishes for the New Year from the Maharani, Helen Nearing - and me - to you!