I first heard about this in church when it was included in Pastor Mike’s sermon.

It is not just for church members, however. I think it’s applicable to everyone, in every situation, because we all struggle, and we all wonder why.

We all have hard times, along with the good ones, and we all make mistakes.  So here is the “Parable of the Pencil,” with my included mutterings.

The writer says to the pencil: “You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone’s hand.” Of course, here the writer is talking about God, but I think it applies to family and friends, as well.

Don’t we all do better when we’re walking and talking with someone? Our troubles seem smaller when we can discuss them. No, they don’t go away, but they seem lighter and easier to manage. Sometimes, they even seem trivial after we’ve talked about them.

I’m so happy that I have family and friends. OK, we disagree sometimes. (Or as my daughter said on her Facebook page, “We don’t always see eye to eye.”) And sometimes, I know my friends and/or family members would like to give me a good kick in the heinie. But on the larger scale, we’re all there for each other, and it’s a good thing we are. Getting through life on a daily basis would be difficult without them.

“You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time,” the writer says, “but this is required if you want to become a better pencil.” I sit sometimes and sharpen colored pencils, so the children I work with can enjoy them.  They work hard at coloring and drawing art. If I didn’t sharpen the pencils on occasion, they wouldn’t work.

I guess we’re like that pencil. Sharpening in our lives equates to struggles. And struggles can make us better people ... if we let them. Do I like that? No way, Jose. I’d like my life to be happy and carefree. I’d also like to win the Mega Millions lottery and never have to worry about money again. I’d like my son Tim to be completely well and never have to go to the emergency room or visit a doctor – ever. The chances of any of those are kinda slim. OK, non-existent.

Is my sharpening, my struggles, making me a better person? Only God knows, and right now, He’s not telling me anything. So I’m moving ahead and just feeling my way, hoping I’m doing things right.

The writer says: “You have the ability to correct any mistakes you might make.” That’s easier said than done sometimes. My eraser is often worn down, or I just don’t want to use it. And sometimes mistakes are awfully hard to correct, even if they’re small ones. Don’t you often say, “If only I hadn’t or if only I had...”

If only I hadn’t fed that first feral cat. If only I had used that wrinkle cream sooner. If only I hadn’t opened my mouth and let those words slip out. If only I had kept up my gym membership (as I grip my sagging thighs). Ah...

The writer tells us: “The most important part of you will always be what’s inside.” Darn good thing, ‘cause the outside is looking worse and worse as the years go by. And sometimes the inside (according to my recent x-rays) is not doing as well as I would like either.

OK, I know that’s not what the writer is talking about. It’s what in your heart that counts. Well, as long as you do something about what’s in your heart. I read this somewhere: Love is not a word; love is an action. You can think all the good things you want, you can say all the good things, but if you never act on them, you’re getting nowhere.

I tell the children I work with, “Don’t say you’re sorry if you’re going to keep doing the same thing over and over. If you really mean you’re sorry, stop doing that.” STOP is a big word to children. And it’s not enough to be able to spell it (which most of them can now do). You have to mean it!

In a book I’m reading by Nicholas Sparks, “Safe Haven,” the villain keeps telling his wife he’s sorry, but that’s only after he almost beats her into the ground. I can tell you right now that she no longer believes him. I wonder why?

“You must always make a clear, legible mark,” the writer notes, “no matter how difficult the situation.” Well, my legible marks are often made on the computer, and I’m certainly going to keep trying to make them strong and clear. I want to leave my mark; I want my friends and family to remember me. And in a good way. To paraphrase Tony Campolo, the author, “When I die, I want my friends and family to go to the Fellowship Hall after my funeral, eat potato salad and cry because they miss me.”

There have been plenty of people in history who have left a mark, but I wouldn’t want to be remembered that way.  Think of Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin. Now granted, we can’t all be Mother Teresa, but I would like my family to remember my passing, as the years go by, with a small ad in the classifieds. I look at those same ads in The Herald wistfully sometimes and wonder if anyone will remember me that way. I think they’re great.

In short, friends, Romans and countrymen, it’s not all that easy to be a good pencil ... or a good person. It doesn’t always come naturally. It can hurt. And your pencil keeps getting shorter and shorter. Where did life go? And in that short span, why didn’t it always go the way I planned?

I guess we will always have questions for which there are no ready answers. So, welcome to my world. Let’s walk together. If you don’t tell me all my faults, I won’t tell you yours (well, maybe we need to share a few). Take my hand; I’m a stranger in Paradise (remember that old song?) I’d like to do better, and I think I can if you’ll help me.

Let’s strive to be good pencils together.

PAT LEALI is a lifelong resident of the Shenango Valley.