“Être toute la vie
porteur de joie
et de la paix.”
~ Frère Roger, de Taizé, Un Avenir de Paix
As I begin writing these words, my hands hold the notebook and pencil which are supported by a table and flooring beneath my feet. The cup in front of me is a vessel holding coffee. A shoulder bag hanging over the back of my chair holds books and workday provisions. The wallet in my back pocket contains a little bit of currency, and my calendar book holds the week’s receipts and listed commitments. My journal notebook is something of a carrier itself, and as it gets filled with words and experiences, the book itself seems to transform. These examples speak for just a few of the vessels immediately seen. Perhaps you may be able to glance from your reading to notice a few vehicles, or containers, or bearers which move their respective transitory holdings. We bear- or carry- ourselves about, recalling that our physical standing may be referred to as our carriage. In French, being the porteur can mean one who is the deliverer of an item, but it is also the word for one who is supporting. An ordinary day is replete with vessels, with compartments that transport. What are the messages we are delivering?
One of my many adventures involving archival fieldwork brought me to the small town of Wilton, Maine. I’d been hired to spend several work days there to organize their local manuscript collections and train a group of volunteers to continue the process. It is always a true labor of love and an honor to be called upon to help preserve the documentary heritage of my home state. By phone, in advance, I’d been told about a Civil War “secretary” by my hosts in Wilton. Once I arrived, I found out what that was. Apparently, so did a crowd of townspeople; they were told the archivist would know how to open the mysterious 19th century box, then we’d all find out what was in it. Immediately, I was set to the task- and fortunately by moving the desktop-sized polished wooden box on my lap, I was able to find the series of concealed inlaid rods which required some pressing-in so the lid could be opened. The box had been the portable desk of a Union Army officer who hailed from this little Maine town, and inside it were his spectacles, gloves, uniform épaulettes, and a number of handwritten documents. We catalogued the box itself, as well as its contents, setting the tone for the rest of the project’s work. This occasion comes to mind when I imagine time-capsules and their discoveries. We “store” experiences, names, sounds, and pictures within our memories. The human soul is inherently something of a time-capsule. As with the Union captain’s artifacts, we create our own museums and shrines- with both artifacts and recollections. Being our own curators, we each provide the interpretive narration. What accompanies our journeys? Do our narratives proceed with us, and do they evolve? Are the stored memories stagnant? If the human time-capsule warrants our preservation, there must surely be purpose to our curatorial commitments.
While considering the recording of history and its housing in vessels, there are also containers that do hot hoard. Indeed, not all conveyance chambers are meant to be storehouses. A camera is simply an instrument for the exposure of images; the purpose of the chamber (“camera,” in Latin) is to facilitate the creation of imagery, rather than its archival storage. Further still, consider the radio: receiving and transmitting signals for our minds’ interpretive abilities, it does not compile or stash away voices, events, or documentation. I listen to today’s news on an antique radio. Occasionally I wonder at its past years of songs, baseball games, and variety shows- from long before my birth. The radio cannot remember; its speaker conveys only what is broadcasting now. But the soul recollects and can identify meaning to its received coordinates. We hold great treasure, albeit as earthen vessels. Is there a limit as to how much the human vessel can hold? I like to think the archive of the soul has an unlimited capacity, providing it is well organized and maintained. Even with that in mind, there must always be an ability to receive and convey without stockpiling.
A vessel of any kind transports something to someplace, whether in the form of a ship, a freight train, a locket, or a notebook. During the weeks and months it takes for me to fill a blank book with journal entries, the tome itself alters its shape and appearance. The vessel physically reflects its adventures as well as the writer’s personal investment. Inevitably a journal captures narrative words in its content, as well as an artifactual testimonial of its life as an expressive instrument.
(The graphite-holder, above, is called a porte-mine*.)
Generally speaking, vessels are the essential vehicles for deliveries to destinations. Writing life’s pilgrimage, conduits and way-stations are surely more immediate concerns than any ultimate terminus. Being incurably intrigued, I wonder more about from whence my inherited words and ideas originate- before they pass through my hands and mind. We like to refer to treasures we convey as temporal, yet quite naturally regard them as eternal. It’s easy to take the immediately visible as all there is. It seems the intellect must make a pilgrimage of its own to the heart’s inlets and coves. As living vessels, how real are our conveyances? Are the experiences and artifacts less real than the container itself? As couriers, what are our contents? It is a relief to remind myself of my role as simply a good steward, when reviewing the archives in my charge- past and present. Historic treasures are to be dignified and made known. In life away from work details, there is a transcendent and widening journey. As with the ancient parable of the talents, the important thing is to invest and leverage wisely and conscientiously. While trying to imagine the destination, albeit knowing content and conduit will eventually be released, there remains every good reason to craft the cargo and its vessels with utmost care.
(* pronounced: POHrr-te meen)