Sunday, April 25, 2010


Yesterday, in addition to writing a letter to my friend J, whose name I pulled from THE LETTER JAR, I also wrote to my mother. I had been meaning to write her ever since she stayed with me and my husband when our son was 3 weeks old. He'll turn 6 months old on Thursday--it was time.

J and my mother have never met and know nothing of each other's stories. Yet a consistent theme emerged: that life rarely turns out the way we expect, and we ought to be singing praises for that.

In the case of J, I introduced him to my friend P. They married a week after I wed my first husband; our union lasted five years, theirs just six months:

I'm not sure I should apologize for introducing you to your first wife--I had no way of knowing how that would all turn out--but I do want to say I'm sorry for the pain you had to endure. I do know for myself, I can now consider my first marriage ... just part of my journey to where I am now. Probably sounds like the basis for yet another country ballad, but I do believe it's true--I wouldn't be who I am, here, without having been who I was, there ... I hope that you too have reconciled the journey that has led to the happiness you have found with N.

Writing to my mother, I echoed the sentiments of the uncharted journey--the two months I lived with her and my dad after my divorce at age 34 certainly was not part of my plan. Desire for a family had in part led to the demise of my first marriage; yet back in those days, I couldn't know if I would actually have the child I wanted. My decision to pursue a family--something I know my mother had always wanted for me but had resigned herself to never seeing--also coincided with her diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer. There lurked an unspoken fear that perhaps she would not live to experience the birth of my child:

Let's face it: I was quite naturally a mess [when she came to stay with us]--an achy, tired, oft-unshowered, bladder-leaking mess--but I also would not trade those days we shared for anything. Of course I am grateful for the wisdom you shared in terms of caring for a newborn, but more than that there was something special, intangible really, in sharing the miraculous beauty of my new child with my own mother. I will never forget it.

The insight that you can map out your life, only to come to a bridge that's out and have to take a detour that leads to great experiences you otherwise might not have had, is nothing new. Hearing such a truism in song, however, simply cannot compare to realizing it for yourself. To honor your unique path is to transform regret--over choices you've made, people you've been--into praise. And THE LETTER JAR project has been nothing if not a travelogue of the places my own journey has wended through. How might your life's stops look different through a lens of gratitude?

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