One month into Project Gratitude, things seem to be humming along. It's been a mix of letters to people who don't know me from Adam, sparked by current events, and more personal letters that tend to shape up like chapters in a memoir to help folks I'm thankful for understand how much they have impacted my life along the way. The reminiscence demanded by some letters is proving to be a worthwhile exercise. I've always been bad at remembering dates, what grade I was in when something happened, etc. But it's easier to piece together the timeline than I thought it would be.
In one sense the personal letters function like prayers. When people audibly talk to God, many details embedded in the monologue serve as reminders for other people in their company. If a God who hears prayers is truly omnipresent and omnipotent, then we aren't telling Him anything She doesn't already know. I suppose an omnipotent ear would know what you are going to say, or ask for, before it comes out of your mouth anyway. When we pray out loud to God in the presence of others, regardless of whether or not the words register with an invisible wish-granting entity, the message serves a purpose in the here and now.
Intercession instills hope, and at the same time communicates to very mortal subjects that they are cared for in the tangible world by another vulnerable soul. In many cases prayer, as a passive expression of love or empathy, is much easier for our prideful selves to conduct than it would be to look deeply and honestly into another person's eyes and say directly to them, "I care about you more than you know, part of me feels your pain, and I hope you get better soon." Unfortunately, sometimes trusting God to take care of someone else’s problems is also easier than sacrificing our time or money.
So, in the same way an audible prayer in the company of others at the dinner table isn't just for God, an open letter isn't just intended for the recipient. I'm sure it fills in some cracks in their own narrative, but they were part of the story, and probably don't need it rehashed in such detail. The ballad and its effects from my perspective are laid bare for them in order to help them realize the impact of their role in my life, but It's also there to help anyone interested, like you, understand how much the person in focus means to me— like a memorial for the living. That said, any recipient could very well remember things quite differently. I would love to get a response back from some of the people I haven't talked to in years, just to compare notes.
An open letter to someone who has since passed away serves as indirect communication. The person addressed will never comprehend it. That would work similar to the way my wife talks to our dog to indirectly communicate with me. Our border collie probably isn't picking up on the nuances of the monologue when Jennifer asks Daisy if she wants to take a "W-A-L-K" while I'm reading the paper nearby, or when she asks her if she’s had her dinner yet, or tells her that her daddy dropped dirt clods all over the house because he neglected to take off his shoes. I don’t usually butt in on their conversation, but I get the message. Indirect communication can be easier for both sides sometimes.
You’ve probably heard the questionable cliché, "write what you know," and the Greek aphorism, "know thyself." If there was ever a symbiotic relationship, it might be between those two ideas.
When I digest past events and decisions that I haven't thought about in a long time, it's hard to run up against writer's block. To ruminate over past events with a pen in-hand helps me better understand the product that is my current self. I find myself being refreshingly, maybe dangerously honest. This is who I am, detailing who I was at points along the journey to now. Some who are familiar with a particular edition of me, if they are curious enough to read, will probably be shocked by how different I was at other points on the timeline.
One of the best side effects of Project Gratitude has been the conscious effort to keep my eyes open for things to be grateful for. It seems a great way to supplement a positive outlook on life. The fear of not having enough subjects to write was completely unfounded. The main challenge lies in the decision regarding what order to approach them. There are a number of letters that will likely be less interesting to third parties, as simple as a few sentences and won't involve an in-depth storyline. Interestingly, they could be some of the hardest to make myself write, because they tend to be for people I haven't known for a very long time, and who I currently see on a frequent basis.
It's one thing to drop an envelope in a mailbox addressed to someone in another state that I haven't talked to in years and ponder how it might be received. It's another to slide a flattering hand-written note across a desk to a co-worker who I'll come face to face with on most work days for the foreseeable future. But maybe that’s just me.
Vulnerability ain't easy, but boy is it healthy— and rarely regrettable in hindsight. Maybe I'll share the shorter notes in their original hand-written form since they should be legible enough. It's the long ones that end up getting sloppy toward the end thanks to a tired hand. They often look as if gravity is pulling each line southward as it moves across the page, or the message is melting off the paper. There is hope, though. I'm seeing some improvement in the readability of my cursive from letter to letter.
You might notice that I've started posting the digital text in an easier to read format. A straight post, rather than an embedded PDF. Feedback made it clear that the PDFs are generally harder to read, especially on a phone, and blink around as they refresh. I'll be going back and reposting some of the earlier letters in the simpler format soon.
Thank you for your patience,