Thinking of Ink

A columnist ruminates on a common class interaction, gone horribly wrong.

By Krishna Sunder

It was me.

I confess—it was me. You lent me your pen in calculus on the first day of the quarter, and I accidentally took it home. I was going to give it back the next day, but you switched sections and we’ll probably never see each other again.

It’s a good pen, too. It’s got one of those super-thin fountain tips that lets out ink in crisp yet fluid strokes as it glides across the page effortlessly—none of that scratchy ballpoint bullshit. My handwriting usually looks more like chicken scratch than legible print, but with your pen everything makes sense. I used to just take notes because everyone else was doing it, but now I understand! You’re actually supposed to read them later!

I’ve thought about you a lot, actually. I’m sure if I tried hard enough, I could find you and give your pen back. I could post in that UChicago Lost and Found Facebook page, or ask around in class and find out if anyone knew your name. Maybe I could find one of those criminal sketch artists to render your face so I can stick “WANTED” posters all over campus to reach you.

But I probably won’t. It’s a lot of effort, and well… it’s just a pen, right? I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder if you’re out there in your new calculus section right before a midterm, fumbling around in your backpack for a pen—only to realize you haven’t got one now. Maybe you’ll lean over and ask the person sitting next to you for a pen—like I did to you—but they’ll refuse (or claim they have no pen), perhaps because they, too, have lost pens in the past to absent-minded classmates who pocketed their belongings. If that’s the case, then I’d be part of the reason less than a third of Americans believe people can be trusted. I don’t know if I can live with that weight on my conscience.

Then again—it’s just a pen. If it was your cell phone, I definitely would go through all that effort to track you down. So why shouldn’t I do the same for your pen? Think about it in terms of money: let’s say I’m walking across the quad, and someone in front of me drops $50 on the ground without noticing. To me, the “right” thing to do is pretty clear: run up to them and hand them their money. But what if they just dropped a penny? What if it was $10, but they’re on a bike and half a mile ahead of me by now? Where do I draw the fine-tipped line?

And that’s not even getting into all the other questions I have. You obviously had multiple pens if you were willing to lend me one. I, of course, had none. Does that mean I have a greater “need” per pen than you do? Let’s imagine someone else asks me to borrow a pen in a future where I am responsible enough to actually carry multiple pens. If I give one to them and they don’t return it, would my pen karma balance out? If you were standing right in front of me, I’d certainly give it back to you; but how hard should I try to find you before I give up?

I’m not sure I have any answers, unfortunately—but it's way too early in the quarter to have an existential crisis. So, to the true owner of this pen: If you’re out there, I have it. Take it back. Please. Your generosity has been much appreciated, but I think I’ll be bringing my own pens from now on.

Krishna Sunder is a first-year in the College.