Those Thank-you Notes


To find something to say. And then how to say it. In her poem, “A Summer’s Day,” poet Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

It takes a while to make the discovery. The finding something to say. It did not happen just by graduating. Or with a birthday.

Finding something to say. With a life. With a career. Beginnings are not easy. Picasso was quoted to have once said that with every act of creation is an inherent act of destruction.

Good health. It was another day with great health, actually. What did you do with it? For yourself? For your company? For your community?

I had a birthday this week. And the week before I saw about 40 people I had gone to college with. Most seemed not to have changed too much. And I owed someone a thank you note. For a huge imposition.

I saw my old freshman roommate for the first time in years. I had asked someone to make sure he showed up for the party. I met a friend who had planted 10,000 trees since I had last seen him. He was my freshman Resident Adviser. And there were a couple people missing from the party. A friend who had lived two doors down freshman year had passed away less than 2 years ago. No one really said anything since most of these guys had seen one another since, though I had never been to town. when a wedding album was opened up, his photos was there. The bride had been taken by breast cancer less than 10 months ago. Only one person present had driven to the funeral and this was why a lot of people had come to town. Her husband and son were at the party. They had been former neighbors of mine when I first had graduated, as we both had moved to the same town.

About that thank you note. I had put off the task, and had not done anything in ten days. Because, while I was a house guest, there was a death in the family. A call came at breakfast to the host about the death of his father. And I wanted to compose the perfect thank you. Instead I mostly was waiting to write that perfect thank you. For the past week, I only thought about the composition. The weekend was all about loss to me, including the basketball game that the host had arranged tickets for about 12 out of towners.

When the ritual was done, finding something worthwhile to say, communicating “what really had gone on” in my life, was what praying really was all about. It struck me that this sympathy note, this birthday, this thing called work this week, had all arrived at about the same destination. Whether it was grieving, working at a job that you did not want to be doing any more, or taking time in your life to write, or finding God in all of this, all of this was really about what prayer was.

For the last week I had not really been involved with writing, in real prayer, as I have put off taking care of tasks. I wanted to be perfect. I always wanted to write the perfect. And I did not feel so perfect when life got busy.

Most people had some acquaintance with God. We were all made in His image and likeness. After a few million years, a lot of people had stopped considering in the formula a thing called soul. How many believed in the soul? At what point does the soul get introduced into the equation called life? What could you do to actually try and get a little more soul into your personality? Getting a handle on this thing called soul? Taking the time to actually try to know Him was the challenge?

There is this little 4 year old boy who looks a lot like my dad, and like my older brother in photos when he was 4-years old. Only this 4-year-old has a form of autism called Asperberger’s. His mother spends a lot of time on developmental concerns. I work with a woman who also has a son with autism. They are just a couple of people I have been praying for. Imposing my good wishes that God do something. Now.

Impositions. Me as a house guest when a father dies. Stunned into silence. Stunned into thanks and praise. For this life. Of a father. For these friends.

The things we pray for. The start of the grieving process was nothing but the giving of thanks and praise for a life. Stunned at what was here and what was gone. The perfect and the imperfect.

I had a birthday this week. I have waited so long to start to do all the perfect things. And even though I had put too much off, it has been a time for giving of thanks and praise for one wild and precious life. And as in any life, you kept celebrating. Another year. And with this one wild and precious life, you kept trying. So was life about comfort levels, whether developing a comfort level around death, a comfort level around strangers, or a comfort level around God? Or in just seeing God each day along the way. Me, vying for God’s attention with my prayers. And God vying for the attention of men and women.

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