“Sometimes symbols are the only way to strengthen our resolve.”
Paper Clips (September 8, 2004)
In rural Tennessee, Whitwell Middle School embarked on an amazing experiment. Paper Clips documents their goal to grasp the concept of 6 million Holocaust victims. To do so, the class determines to collect 6 million paper clips to symbolize each human life lost, and to comprehend the enormity of the tragedy.
Just how this undertaking unfolds logistically is at times humorous and at others wrenching to witness. The beauty of the message is in its childlike purity. It could be summed up as:
- treat others as you want to be
- love is the only way to do that
- remember those who were not treated as such
And like all rudimentary truths, there is something of deception in their forthrightness, profundity in their purity. If these three truths are so simple in theory, why has the human race so profoundly failed to live them in practice? How does a man like Hitler persuade a nation to folly?
There are no such answers in Paper Clips. The film only seeks simply to communicate the truth of spreading the good news of human dignity and tolerance. If that message succeeds in Tennessee, it might succeed in 49 other states, and there may one day be a world that knows not prejudice. Southerners won’t be called “dumb rednecks” and Northerners “damn yankees”. We’ll be called Americans.
The symbolism doesn’t just stop with the paper clip. The final resting place for the paper clips that the school decides on is itself an incredibly powerful allegory for redemption.
“You are no longer a vehicle of pain. From this day forward you are a vessel of new life.”
I’m adding Whitwell, Tennessee to my list of places to pilgrimage.