A singer friend has been making her journey through a major illness that requires her full attention. To heal from the double assault of the disease and the medical response to the disease, she had to step away from her busy and public life for six months. Everything has worked splendidly, and now, almost done with treatments, she'll soon be picking up her juggling pins, and flinging her flaming torches into the air again. It is amazing, and wonderful, and pure gift.
Throughout her ordeal, people she knows and people she has never met have stayed in touch through email and Facebook posts, sending thoughts and wishes, prayers and video clips the way folks used to send chicken soup and homemade jam. I have been happy to witness the public Facebook part of this, because, years ago, such gentle "tapping on the window" helped call me back toward life. Illness and injury are not solely physical events. They have mental dimensions as well. Doubt and dread proliferate as wildly as out-of-control cancer cells. Loneliness crushes one's spirit as effectively as the metal of a car crushes bones. Friends and family may gather close, or they may not; but fear will wrap round you closer than air. So It helps to know that someone somewhere is paying attention.
On the top shelf of my closet rests a small wicker suitcase filled with letters gathered into packets and tied with silk ribbons. I received many of them during the long recovery period following my car accident in 1978, and they helped me recover. In truth, if not for the letters and my puppy Sonya, I would have faded away, so quiet was the phone, so strong the feeling of being left behind by the world I knew. In my rented house in Burbank, California, I was broken and poor and scared, but I could sit at a small table by a sunny window, and read letters from people who loved me. In my hands were pages their hands had written upon, had folded into an envelope and stamped, and sent to me. My New York friend Linda wrote on creamy paper, my grandma Elsie on white. They both favored fountain pens and blue-black ink. My sister Babette could make me laugh to the point of helplessness (she still can), and the writer Gilean Douglas suggested I might be a writer too, which made me feel very good when I had been told I might not sing again. Though the journals of those years have been lost, these letters are my archives, and when I hold them in my hands again, I am as grateful as I was when I first received them over three decades ago.
So. Thank you, Linda, now living in a small town on a different island. Grandma Elsie, I miss you every day. Thank you, Gilean Douglas, for answering my fan letter, and beginning a conversation. Thank you, Babette, for the sacred sister silliness. You were all my doctors.
Oh yes, and thank you, puppy Sonya, for eating only two or three letters. If, Gentle Reader, you have been thinking of me for years as "that woman who never wrote back", now you know why.