I came across a small, floral gift bag the other day when I was organizing the poor job I did of unpacking days 0-94 post-transplant. All the items gathered up from the hospital and a fair amount of the books and art supplies I took to the apartment had been sitting in little piles under the window, including this little bag stuffed with cards and letters. I was having a tough day, feeling isolated and stagnant and more than a little uneasy about what 2014 will look like. The bag tipped over as I picked up an armful of sketch books and out tumbled all the cards and letters I had received when I was feeling the worst. I remember the arrival of each and every one, but my brain function was temporarily handicapped following the massive dose of chemo pre-transplant and as went to put them back I realized I couldn't recall the contents of most of the correspondence. I sat down and read every one.
I usually don't call people by their names here but only lend an initial in hopes I can preserve the privacy of my friends and family. These cards and letters revived my sodden heart this week, cheering me up all over again and rekindling the strength they lent me in the hospital and after. They appeared at my feet when I needed them the most and I think the authors ought to get some first-name credit. I am away from the bag of letters tonight and threw a handful in my suitcase to take with me to Black Butte, so consider this representative of more love than my heart can hold. Quinn started the idea in my head for acknowledging some folks who have sent concrete reminders that I belong to a bigger community than what I can reach with one arm the night she sent a text just to tell me she is grateful that I am here. It made me grateful to be here, too. It made me grateful to have so many connections to some quality humans I have the honor to call my friends.
The young daughters of a coworker of my now-ex sent me drawings portraying me as a healthy human, sometimes laying in the grass to stargaze, sometimes with a mermaid. Josh pinned to my cork board photos he had taken of sunset at Mt. Tabor. Annie's many cards told her side of our pen-palling, including her travels and her new beau. Abby sent humorous cards and games along with her survivor-mentor brilliance and sister/auntie love. Dawn had lovely words of encouragement, written in stanzas only a writer of her caliber and spirit can concoct. Kris bolstered my strength all the way from Hawai'i and reminded me that I go through this on my own but not by- or for myself. Hauss' existential pondering and personal updates brought my hometown to my hospital bed, where I could put myself back across the living room/service counter/giant bowl of vegan something from him while we unravelled the universe and complained about non-communicative bosses. Kenji's flawless handwriting considered the implications of deep love and what is done to keep it at arm's length lest we lose our priorities in the process of answering love (familial, romantic), and managed to expand a roomful of philosophy from a zipped-down few paragraphs. Ethan told a beautiful love story about a Southern boy and a Texan girl, intertwined with quarter-life contemplation and whether a roommate who lived near the Fleshlight factory was a wise choice. Sean offered to send mackerel to the seafood capitol of the PNW, got himself into peril in Finland and demanded I get off my lazy ass and fly to Helsinki to use my Russian mob connections to get him out of there and back to US soil.
These letters have lifted my spirits and reminded me of what an incredible web of people exist just beyond my immediate family. What you have done by writing me letters and sending me postcards has made me feel connected to each of your distinct and treasured personalities. The people I call my friends are cast widely around North America and points further out, and every single one tells a story that is purely their own. Most of the people who wrote to me because I asked for letters didn't bombard me with platitudes (my most loathed conversation block), but told me stories of their lives, shared their perspectives about young adulthood in the 2010's, built narratives I could get lost in, told me specific things they believed in about me and my fight, and knew I would get their humor and play along even if only in my head while a tube hanging out of my chest pumped fluids and a dilaudid drip. It's true, by the way: I made the choice to kill those pimps and I never shy away from dealing with my own decisions.
If someone you care about at all ends up with a cancer diagnosis or some other condition where they are going to be feeling terrible for a long time, one of the best things you can do is send a letter or card. Put as much of yourself as you can into what you write, even if it rambles or you are afraid you are sharing too much. If what you have to offer is your heart or the present point on your journey, or your killer wit, put it on paper with the maximum amount of you possible. Form doesn't matter, nor do formalities. Skip the "get well soon" and replace it with a story. Junk "I'm sorry you aren't feeling well" and offer, "this is what I see in you that makes you special/important/dear to me. Thank you for that." If you are funny, be funny. If you are a romantic, run with it. If you are ever the philosopher, don't shy away just because it might be too heady. My bag of letters is like a paper version of a weekend spent with some of my favorite people, just as they are. My letters ground me in a place in my soul where I remember that my community is on fire with brilliant minds and hearts too outstanding to not adore. Having them at my fingertips is a brand-new sail after trudging through this bit of recovery has tattered all the others. I love you guys; it's time to start writing you back.