There is something magical about a fresh, unadulterated box of crayons. Opening a new box and surveying the crisp, pointed tips of the colors, each poised and ready to be used for the first time, is the height of pleasure for a child. I have a long history of crayon lust, dating all the way back to my kindergarden years when a crayon was the main stylus for writing, drawing, or any other gesture of “pen” to the page.
Back then, I coveted the 8-pack neon jumbo crayolas, which my teacher kept secured in the supply cabinets behind her desk. Every once in a while, she would put brand new packs of crayons in our communal crayon basket which was the centerpiece of our circular desks, pacing crayon consumption on our behalf since none of us had that kind of willpower. She was a pro at dealing with five year olds.
Kindergarden was a constant lesson in sharing, and I wasn’t always thrilled to be subject to these newfound rules. Most importantly, I had no interest in allowing any of my table mates to put their grubby little hands on, at least what I deemed were, my bright pink crayons. Not willing to take any chances, I would feign going to the bathroom during lunch, just to sneak back to the classroom to hide all the pink crayons in my personal crayon box. Crayon care and use has always been a serious matter in my book.
A few days ago when attempting to entertain a group of Afghan children visiting Bagram with their families, I was reminded of my love for pink crayons. Operation Pencil, a group of soldiers, sailors, and airmen, collects school supplies and disseminates them throughout the local populace. It started as an outreach program to the children who visited Bagram with their parents for a variety of reasons, but has now expanded to local hospitals and schools. Mostly, our volunteers just have enough time to give away the school supplies, but lately there has been enough time to engage the children in simple activities. While the boys are most interested in playing intense games of soccer and volleyball, the girls are all about coloring.
Sitting next to a young girl, no more than ten years old, I remembered quickly the magic of a brand new box of crayons. Watching her intently as she opened the box, I witnessed the same kind of thrill in her eyes as I have felt each time I have found myself opening a new box. She had moved far beyond the simple lesson of sharing, and had no problem propping the crayon box between the two of us, as we dove into the set lines of the coloring book. Hardly a word escaped between either of our lips. Though there was little we could say to one another due to our language barriers, our art spoke for itself. It was a mutual endeavor, each of us taking one side of the open book and giving it life through colors, shapes, and letters.
Spending an hour with this child and a handful of our volunteers spanning quite a few generations, the simple pleasure of coloring became evident. As adults and especially as deployed US Service Members, we don’t allow ourselves to do it often. It normally takes a child to invite us to the table and help us remember that something as unassuming and inexpensive as a box of crayons and a piece of paper can still our harried souls, if only for a moment. In my own constant push not to waste even a minute of my day, coloring was certainly a helpful reminder that life is not made well and good because of completed “to do” lists and fully "replied to" inboxes, though they are both necessary evils of work, especially around here. Instead our lives are enriched by the colors we share with one another and the brushstrokes we take time to fill in, even when time seems to be running away from us. An afternoon of coloring was just the therapy I needed to give me a little perspective.