Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My grandpa's letter to his first-born son

My Uncle Steve found an old letter written to him by my grandfather that had gone unread and unnoticed for 47 years. The discovery of this letter is pretty timely considering the ill health that my grandfather is in. I wanted to share it with whomever is reading this because I thought it was very sweet and touching. This is what it said:

Like you, Steven, I am cursed with insomnia. But tonight is Christmas Day 1962 and things in my heart are bursting to be said. And I know if I defer the task, too soon it will be Christmas 1963 and these things will still be within me. I wish that I were more articulate and could put down more profoundly what I wish to say. And that in itself is part of it ... part of this puzzle called life ... to wish. To wish to be better -- stronger -- more skillful -- more witty -- more physically attractive. But as it is, we are what we are.

A season such as this is one of life's milestones. A time for review ... for looking back over the shoulder at this story we have written. And when one looks back, the way seems so short. How natural it would feel for me to be back in my child's body. Back in that old backyard peering intently at a bumblebee busying himself among the hollyhocks. Or lying on my back in warm, moist grass watching cloud-pictures.

We had an old barn with a high window. It would be completely right if tomorrow in my child's body I should go out and take the dare and jump out of that old high window, and have my heart stop for an instant as I whoosh down.

A tree of heaven flourished in the back yard (whoever named that tree must have meant it as a joke). When you touched the leaves, your hands smelled vile. In front stood a catalpa tree. When it blossomed into an unbelievably fragrant white cloud, we would pick the blossom cups and suck the nectar. That was a real tree of heaven. It would be perfectly natural if tomorrow, in my child's body, I would go back and climb that catalpa tree. The last time I climbed it, I was seven years old. But I could climb it tomorrow and be at home in it.

I have watched these hands that now write this. Small hands that struggled to learn to tie a shoelace (with assistance from a wiggling tongue). How quickly they were man's hands. How quickly. On summer nights when the weather was sticky and no one could sleep anyway, we would sit in the dark on the front porch. And you could hear the voices up and down the block as other people sat in the dark and talked, and just listened to June bugs drone. And somewhere a radio played far away.

As the years pile up, they speed like the vortex of a whirlpool. And the press of obligation, the urgency of the moment, supersedes all. Until, at times like this or sometimes when I look at you in sleep, I remember how short a time it really was that I dreamed child's dreams and thought child's thoughts. I am not wise as I wish I could be. But I have come to a conclusion about life that I want to pass on to you, my darling children. It is very simple and this is it --

This very instant is life. Nothing can be changed in that which has just passed. Nothing we do can assure us of the next one. Do with this very instant of life whatever you can. Savor it ... don't set your dreams aside for tomorrow. Dream them now or do about them what you can. This instant is all that matters. Never keep words of love shyly in your heart, for they will wither there like flowers.

I have said for today all I can, for as I look at the wall clock, it is 12:10 and Christmas 1962 is gone forever. Today I am 34 years old.

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