I pick up a red, gold-printed greeting card from a box. It never fails to catch my attention. I open it to find a tiny peacock feather glued to the inside. The card has a short message signed at the end with a drawing of a daisy. I look at it with the same amazement as I did the first time years ago. The feather never fails to make me smile. The card says that I am missed and loved, that soon I will be reunited with a friend. I run my fingers across the card. The golden print is slightly raised on the card. I bring the card to my nose. It used to smell of spices and incense, but it now smells of old paper. I put the card back into the box.
I pick up folded sheets of paper covered by a wide scrawl of blue pen. I concentrate hard to be able to read the script, but even before I read the first line, the words flow into my mind. I remember the letter by heart. I close my eyes to relive the memory of reading it for the first time. It was hand-delivered. I pulled it out of a folder and held it like a fragile vase as I walked to a far corner of the room behind a large carved closet, where I settled by a carved table to read it. The letter spoke about light and roads, about choices and dilemmas, about the anticipation of separation and the hope of not being lost. I caress the poem as if doing so would reassure the author that distance and time are just illusions.
Right next to it is another letter covered in the same scrawl, now in black pen. Again, I don’t need to read the letter to remember what it says. I now caress both the poem and the letter, just of out habit. The letter tells about the harshness of separation and the excruciating pain of loss; it is a river of grief that disagrees with my pronouncement that distance and time are just illusions. It tells about air that no longer supplies oxygen to the lungs, water no longer hydrating the body, and the light no longer bright in one’s eyes. I sit on the floor cross-legged with the box of letters in front of me. I feel the tightness in my chest. How much I wish I could reach through the time and space. How much I wish there was no occasion for that letter. I close my eyes again and allow myself to remember my friend, to let the pain wash away. Maybe distance and time are real, maybe my memories are just illusions.
I place the letters back into the box. I sit still for a little bit. I reach for another card; it is an invitation to a gallery. The card is slightly creased at the corners. The subtle colors of the print bring back the cold winter evening when I was making my way to a gallery to see my friend’s installation. Wrapped in my goose-down coat and a large shawl, I was battling the wind and sleet. There were a handful of people already at the gallery. I picked up a plastic cup of wine and moved further inside the gallery to warm up, greet others, and enjoy the art. The installations invited us to co-create and to move beyond our individual self, beyond the silence of technology. I caress the card as I smile thinking about the years I spent with that friend debating the boundary between art, technology, and isolation. I think about friends lost to time, to misunderstandings, to laziness. I remember every one of their faces, their smiles, and their voices.
I glance back to the box. My eyes stop on a thick letter folded into quarters. The handwriting is even, letters are carefully drawn, each connection is precise. There is a measured distance between the words, with a rare exception when words attempt to run off the page; then they diminish in size and almost drip off the margins. How much I dreaded getting those letters. These were always not just news from home, but also instructions, reprimands, and sometimes pleadings. At times it would take so much mental energy to read those letters that I had to muster some courage by either taking a day off or having a glass of a strong malt to help me along. How strange that these letters no longer elicit such a reaction. I read through them one by one and see just how much my parents worried about me, just how much stress I have caused them, just how much they love me. I mouth thank you, and I love you when I place letters back into the box.
I pick up another card. It is a blue card with golden stars, and green lilies. It says, “Now that you graduated, the light bulb is supposed to be on!” The card came with a light bulb to fix a broken nightstand I had in my room for weeks. I smile as a memories flood me, memories of many books read, goodnight stories told, and conversations I had under that light. I place the card back into the box and let my heart rest a little bit. Just next to this card is another one with a simple cartoon of a lucky clover following a traveler. This card was also given to me for graduation. It has no written message, just the name of a friend. This simple blessing followed me to so many places. I take a deep breath of relive as my heart has found its normal rhythm.
I notice an envelope. It is a standard white business envelope and inside are pink sheets of paper. The title says, “NO SHAME IN WEARING PINK!” followed by a short note. Even now, the words encourage me to smile and stay strong, they tell me that things will be okay, eventually, and that everything passes. They encourage me to remember that I am strong and smart and beautiful. How much I cried when I got that letter. How much I wanted for things to be okay now; not tomorrow, not the day after, not eventually, but now, at this very moment. I feel the words printed on felt buttons, I am surprised how light and warm these soft words of encouragement are. I say “thank you” out loud again. I said “thank you” years ago, but now I say it with my fully open heart. Thank you for believing in me, for missing me, for loving me, for being with me even as the distance and time have separated us. And thank you for reminding me that “this too shall pass.”
I linger over the box just a little bit longer. These wonderful, painful, playful, and nourishing memories are a fountain of inspiration. I open the box every so often to remember people who are not immediately near me. These letters slow me down and let me breathe. These letters pacify my worries. They tell me that the next move will go well, the next job will go well, the future is scary but exciting. They also tell me that even if things don’t go as I have planned or hoped, in the end it all will be well, for I have boxes full of memories, and letters, and notes, and cards to show for it.