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MEANDERINGS: PEOPLE NEED TO SPREAD THEIR WARMTH

Last night I visited Veloy's mother to read her my column from last week, the one about everything being covered with earth. Its descriptions of ancient cultures and artifacts must have gotten her into an "heirloom" mode. After I finished reading, she rocked back and forth for a while, then said, "You know, I've got something here you might be interested in seeing."

She walked over to the knife-and-fork drawer and started searching through the silverware in that awkward section in the back. In a minute she produced a big-mouthed silver spoon, which she brought over and handed me for inspection.I could tell it had been around for a long time. The details of its floral pattern were worn smooth. The bowl was paper thin, so thin that a hairline crack had developed along one side.

"We used that spoon to dish up fruit all through the years the kids were growing up," she said. "It used to be Grandma Walker's."

Somehow the subject changed, but I held onto the spoon as we went on to talk about other things. In a little while I handed it back to her.

"My land," she said, feeling it all over, "this spoon is hot. Have you been holding it all this time? I'm surprised at how warm it is."

It didn't surprise me that she noticed. With the diminishing of her sight, Mildred's awareness of other senses has increased. She sees with the tips of her fingers.

Later, while driving home, I got to thinking about the warm spoon and about what being alive creates for us as calorie-burning machines. I was reminded of a show I saw on television the other night, one of those real-life police-camera shows like "Emergency 911." A woman being interviewed was describing the experience of discovering the body of a friend who had been murdered.

She explained how she walked up to her friend, reached out and touched his hand. At that point in the interview she paused. Her lip quivered as she continued: "His hand was cold. It was only then that it hit me that he was really gone."

She then became too emotional to go on.

As I thought about it, what struck me was the reality our warmth conveys, how tangible it makes us, how little is left when the warmth is gone.

We sit down on a chair someone has just got up from and feel their warmth still there. At night we lay our head against a cool pillow. Within moments the temperature of the pillow changes, its molecules of fabric and fiber moving faster, just from the touch of our presence.

This morning I took Jill and Danielle to the park in Alpine to play on the swings. "Put on your jacket," I said to Jill.

"It's not too cold," she said. Her 6-year-old mind was reacting more to the spring sun than to the chill in the air. I didn't argue.

Within a few minutes of being at the park, she was curling up to me. I put my arm around her shoulder. She snuggled closer. I wrapped both my arms around her for just a minute until she was warm. Then she was off again to climb on the tricky bars and slide down the slide. All as natural as breathing.

We forget too easily the power of what we give out, and it is not just biological. Our tendency is to hold onto things - to conserve, be it money, time or even feelings. We think our power comes from keeping. But it doesn't. Our energy is in a constant outflow, like the warmth passed on to Mildred's spoon without willing it - created spontaneously.

It is the same with such ethereal things as love, kindness and good will - warmth or lack of it is passed even in the tone of our voice when we speak. It is passed without thought. If we do not let it go - if it is held back - it burns itself out, unexpressed, in a wasteland of possession.

We speak of people who have a "warm" or a "cool" personality.

We are drawn to the warmth. The cold puts us off; it makes us uncomfortable.

One of my favorite writers, Annie Dillard, in her book "The Writing Life," talks about our inclination to hold things in, of a tendency to keep things to ourselves, as if doing so would make us stronger.

". . . The impulse," she says, "to keep to yourself what you have learned is both shameful and destructive. Anything you do not freely give and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."

If we live our lives in a context of scarcity, if we are always holding on and holding back, scarcity will be a constant companion.

But if we see abundance, abundance will occur as naturally as we warm the world around us and everything we touch. It will affect the way we hear the sound of a loved one's voice. It will decide how we savor a sunset. It will even determine the way in which we perceive the face of a stranger.