One of my adult children and ‘significant other’ refer to one of the chapters in my novel, The Steam Room Diaries, as “the chapter about how you don’t really know your parents.” That is merely one of the sub-themes of the chapter but clearly the primary one that jumped out at them.
Talking about this, one of my sons gave an easy illustration of this idea that we don’t ever fully know our parents since they had at least a generation of life, loves, and relationships before we were ever born; and at least another generation of experience before we greeted them as adults ourselves. He described his experience as a youngster, of reading through the two or three score of cards we hung around the entryways of our home, and the sense of wonderment that he knew so few of the people that sent them. Though we have fewer cards these days in the age of electronic communication, he had the same experience this year.
Cards and family letters are much maligned and lampooned these days but I feel grateful for them. Facebook is great for keeping in touch but something about a Christmas card arriving, or sitting down at some point after December 25th and reading through all the letters people write about their family and the year past, feels comforting to me. It matters little that I don’t know many of the people I am reading about, with the time and distance between extended family members these days I also lack familiarity with people I do know. It is the sense of connectedness that I appreciate, of knowing that the sender cares enough about sustaining our relationship over time and distance that he or she will make the effort to keep me in the fold.
This Christmas is a time of grief and anticipation for me personally, double-exposed upon one another and blurring my vision. I am leaving Vermont and the wonderful spiritual community I served here, and moving to the Finger Lakes Region of New York.
I have received a number of beautiful notes and letters from people in my congregation here in Vermont, expressing gratitude for my three years of ministry and sharing sadness at our departure. Most of them bring a tear to my eye and stir the strong brew of emotions made even more potent by Christmas. One letter I received this week made me cry outright. It was two pages, hand-written, and clearly composed with great thought as well as artfulness. I am sure that receiving it as an email would have also been meaningful, but there was added power and beauty in its manual, papered, and well-traveled form.
There is irony of course, in my sending this note in a bottle via an anonymous electronic pathway. Yet I feel certain that those of you reading this know about the sweetness and satisfaction of which I am writing, captured only in the tactile experience of opening a sealed envelope and deciphering those magical inky curves and slashes writ by hand that convey so much with so little.