Friday, July 2, 2010

"How are you? I am fine."

Tonight I drew from THE LETTER JAR the name of my cousin K.

I smiled as soon as I put pen to paper, remembering  how K and I corresponded as young adults--she in Colorado, I in New York. I wrote her dozens of letters, and I'm pretty sure they all started exactly the same way:

Dear K:
How are you? I am fine.

I shared that memory with K right away, noting that I had chosen a consistent opening that was upbeat, if not all that original. The more I wrote however, the more I realized that those six words probably sum up as well as any the theme of many of my most gratifying letters.

I haven't spoken to K in a while, and so I indeed wanted to know how she was. Granted, it was a little trickier than when we were adolescents--Did I ask about her daughter H, whom I'd heard through another family member was having problems getting her life in order? Should I acknowledge her parents' health issues, or was I not supposed to know about them? How did I sidestep the issue that I could not remember what K did for a living?

Ultimately I decided that there really was no point in taking the time to write a letter if it wasn't going to be heartfelt and genuine. I really did care how H was doing, and K's parents as well. And trying to write as if I remembered anything about K's job would be obvious and lame.

My mom told me about your dad's recent health concerns, and your mom's; please know they are in my thoughts and prayers. I've kept H in my thoughts too--I understand she has struggled a little being out west. I'm sure that has to be hard on you.

I feel a little out of the loop when it comes to what you've been up to ... I hope you're enjoying stress-free and fulfilling days.

I then went on to tell K, as I have so many other letter recipients, that life has been good to me. Listing off what I have to be grateful for--namely my son, stepson and husband and an impending holiday visit from my brother and his sons--I experienced a bit of that joy I used to feel when I was 11 and would recount in my letters how school and trips to the beach and library and mall were keeping me happy and busy.

"How are you? I am fine." It's a simple letter writing premise, perhaps, but it also feels like a good one. It seems a good letter not only details the activities of the letter writer but shows genuine interest, through specific acknowledgments and questions, in the life of the letter recipient. I can appreciate the gentle reminder  to view my cup as half full and not get too wrapped up in myself.

My letter to K also served to remind me of the importance of family. When I was young, my family would drive almost every summer from New York to Colorado to see K's family. My brother and I had a blast with K and her brother, riding a go-kart around their huge yard, playing with their dogs and just generally finding ways to goof off. Reflecting on the fun we had makes me all the more determined to make sure my kids spend time with their cousins, creating their own special memories.

STAYIN' ALIVE: My letter to K wouldn't have been complete without recalling the music we shared. K was a little older than I, and I always looked forward to the bands to which my more sophisticated cousin would introduce me. Thanks K--I still love The Bee Gees!


Sue said...

Very interesting project. I just don't know if I could get 365 names to put into the jar! Good for you, and good luck with the writing. I like your thoughts about what/how to write about sensitive things to those we've fallen a bit out of touch with.

Keep on!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post that makes me think about my growing daughters and their missed opportunities to write to those people in their lives that they don't stay in touch with by Facebook or email or text or chat....the list could go on.

Although the girls always send thank you cards for gifts received, I wonder what a project like this might do to open up their own world.

Thanks for the thought provoking posts.


L, The Jar Keeper said...

Thanks to both of you for your kind comments. This project has been so profound in terms of the way it has challenged my thinking and expanded my gratitude. I'm glad it's striking a chord with others too.

Thanks again for reading and responding.