Words Written, Memories Made
The word that is heard perishes, but the letter that is written remains. Proverb
Words have always been important to me and my fascination with putting them together to tell stories is the reason I became a writer. In this age of emails, texting and 140 character counts between hashtags, thoughts scrolled across a piece of paper are a precious commodity. Throughout my life, I’ve seen how words can heal and I’ve tried to use my voice in the books I write to convey the depth of emotions I think possible in life.
About five years ago I started writing a book, Binding Arbitration. The son of the main character has leukemia and he needs a bone marrow transplant. The story is about a mother’s dogged determination to find a donor for her child, but in the background it’s about the treatment, outlook, and outcomes for cancer patients. It was a difficult book to write and publish because at its core is a sick child, but it’s also about the power of love to heal. It’s about words written in letters that were never mailed but finally delivered, and the power of those written words, that once read, were cherished. When I first wrote the book its theme was about the cycle of abandonment, but now its become so much larger than that for me. I’d been one of the lucky families that cancer hadn’t touched, but now my father-in-law is in his third round of treatments against this insidious disease and is undergoing a bone marrow transplant.
So life does have a way of imitating art.
One of my daughters came up with an unusual name for her grandfather when she was a toddler and somehow it’s managed to stick, we call him G-Pop. When G-Pop first got sick I knew my girls wouldn’t take it well, so as a way to cope I fell back on my written words and their power to heal. Each of my girls picked out a journal, one of the journals has beautiful blue birds on it and the other has whimsical owls. I told the Bluebird and the Owl to write G-Pop a letter in the journal and we would give it to him and then he would write the little birds back.
And so the journal entries ensued, but you have to understand, G-Pop was a college professor his whole career and he knows how to use words wisely. How many people have you encountered who are truly wise? Wisdom is a gift so few possess and so precious that I looked forward to what G-Pop wrote back in the journals as much as my Bluebird and Owl did. And I too learned new things about G-Pop that I’d never known.
Some of the questions Bluebird asked seem so mundane and yet G-Pop spun them into lessons every child should learn from the lap of a man so wise, kind and patient. Bluebird plays softball and she asked G-Pop what his favorite games were? G-Pop loves sports and both of his sons were collegiate athletes and G-Pop never missed a game they were playing in all the way through high school. But G-Pop didn’t mention any of that; he just talked about his love of baseball, but when he got to the close of that letter he said: “As for softball or whatever else you do, I really enjoy every moment of watching you. You remind me of your father. I see so much of him in you. If you believe in yourself like he did in himself you will have a wonderful future. Enjoy what you do and you will have a wonderful life. G-Pop”
Our family has been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit, so Owl asked G-Pop where his favorite vacations were. G-Pop responded with the trips he took with his uncle Firpo in his own childhood, and then the vacation he took G-Mom and his boys on to a ranch in Wyoming, and then some of the fabulous places he has gone to in his retirement, like Italy, England, Barbados, France, Hawaii and Poland. But he closed with this: “So picking one vacation is hard. They all provide me with wonderful memories, a greater appreciation that we really are all one people. We differ in appearance but we all seek the same things. We want to be happy, to be loved and to love, to be respected and to respect, and to be free of oppression and fear. We seek peace and prosperity. We find comfort in our families and try to enjoy things together. That’s what creates our special memories. G-Pop”
Then Bluebird told G-Pop about her favorite things: her love of books (that she partially inherited from him) and about her favorite foods, meatballs at that time, and her favorite color which was purple. G-Pop wrote back about all the different books that offered him so much pleasure. He wrote that his favorite food was Italian and then he asked if wine was a food, because he liked that, too. Then somewhere in the middle of his letter he talked about his fascination with birds and bears and the collection of bears he had gathered from places like Colorado, Alaska and China and how G-Mom humors him by putting them on the mantle once a year. He said, Bears have always fascinated me—they are big, strong yet docile and funny at times. The instant I read those words I understood his kinship with the bear. G-Pop is a tall man, with silver hair as pure as a polar bears’ coat, he’s strong and yet the gentlest person I’ve ever encountered. In all the years I’ve known him I’ve hardly ever heard him raise his voice, but he is like the bear in his fierce regard for his children and grandchildren. Perhaps what makes him most like a bear is strength, inner strength. The bear doesn’t pick battles but when one comes looking for the bear you know he’ll fiercely fight it. And while he’s fighting his battle with cancer, this bear will take the time to look around the forest and call to his little birds, leaving them handwritten letters in books they’ll treasure forever.
And so I’ll close with one of my absolute favorite quotes.
How frail and ephemeral is the material substance of letters, which makes their very survival so hazardous. Print has a permanence of its own, though it may not be much worth preserving, but a letter! Conveyed by uncertain transportation, over which the sender has no control; committed to a single individual that may be careless or inappreciative; left to the mercy of future generations, of families maybe anxious to suppress the past, of the accidents of removals and house-cleanings, or of mere ignorance. How often it has been by the veriest chance that they have survived at all. Elizabeth Drew.
When was the last time you wrote a letter worthy of survival? When was the last time you put pen to paper and wrote someone a note they will cherish forever?
Bluebird and Owl have a journal filled with letters written by the man with the strength of a bear, the wisdom of a sage and the heart of an angel. This first post is dedicated to G-Pop, Bluebird and Owl, and G-Mom too!