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I want more letters in my life. Real life letters. Handwritten letters that come in the mail. The kind that make me want to write back. Remember those? There have been times where I’ve been profoundly touched by the tender gesture of a letter, by the vulnerability that goes into sitting down and thinking deeply about another person. When I was a young teen, my boyfriend used to write me long letters. Every morning at school, he would hand me a beautifully folded and illustrated letter. Sometimes it would be a poem, sometimes song lyrics, sometimes just a simple confession. He was a brilliant writer. I imagine he still is. Another friend used to send back my letters, which he had cut up and rearranged into stanzas. He said they were poetry. I used to save all of my letters in a box in my closet. I knew they were special. Years later, I threw them away when my husband told me he was uncomfortable with these old expressions of love. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I would have told him that their meaning had more to do with the art and magic of connection than it did with some sentimental longing. I wish I had them now. I would like to look at them again. I don’t write enough letters anymore, and I don’t receive enough either. Recently, a man I love and respect has fallen quite ill. It’s possible he will die soon. I was thinking about him today, so I wrote him a letter. I hope it brings him a little light. I’m sharing it here. We should do this for each other more often.

Dear XXXX,

I am thinking of you today as I drink my coffee and watch another Newfoundland morning unfurl outside my window. It’s still cool here, a layer of frost covers the canoe upturned in the yard, but the birds are everywhere and they are singing because they know of no reason not to.

I’ve heard the news of your illness, and this morning, my heart is heavy. I’m thinking of you and how much love and respect I have for you. You’ve been such an inspiration to me as a student,  a writer, a teacher, and a thinker, and it’s about time I told you. Thank you for living as a person of faith and love and service and family. This too has inspired me, as does your passion for literature and history, and your kind, sensitive heart.

I’ve also been thinking about our ancestry. I imagine that hidden deep in the coil of our making, the spinning core that brands us, there is a tiny flaw, a rebel gene that we pass down, hand over cupped palm, that creates in us a unique and intense emotional connection with the world, one that can seem too overwhelming at times. I can see it in my father, myself, my son. Perhaps you’ve seen it too. I’ve seen it cause vast valleys of pain, incredible sadness, addiction, depression, loneliness, but I’ve also seen it cause unyielding joy, an endless capacity for love and acceptance, a fearless yearning for knowledge, a sense of self found in gestures of humanity, a competence, a strength, a dizzying ability to draw others toward our light.

What a gift we have! What a gift to be able to glimpse pure happiness, direction, and love only visible because at times we’ve been lost, wandering in the shadows of our darkest moments. So, today, I am thinking of you and the rest of our wonderfully fantastic tribe of a family, and as I cringe at another gray day of ice fanning out across the yard, I can hear the birds, and I can see the sun burning to be seen, and I am happy. I hope you are too.

Much love,


  • aunt Peggy says:

    Dear Jen,
    Again, how beautifully you write. I know that “someone” is going to read your letter and I also know it will bring tears to his eyes. He loves you too and admires your work and accomplishments. He has done much better the past two days! I don’t think we have conquered anything but we’ve learned a lot and he is going to be around for quite some time! ☺

  • Avatar photo Jen Lambert says:

    Hope he is still on the up and up!?