Recently I received an acrimonious letter from a person who has been a great teacher (read: tremendous pain in the a**) in my life. As I was composing my reply, carefully choosing each word, deleting many entire drafts, it struck me how much time I have spent communicating with this individual. Hours upon hours: deliberating over how, and whether, and with which medium I should communicate. Days: reading his poison-pen diatribes over and over, taking each painful word deep within.
And I thought about how I dash off letters to my friends–fragments of sentences, sometimes omitting both my name and theirs, when I remember to write at all. I suddenly recalled a handwritten love note sent to me years ago, still tucked carefully away in the secret drawer of my desk. When had I last read it?
I put my computer down and opened the secret drawer. The letter was written in pen on hand-pressed paper. It was short, and breathtakingly true, and full of palpable love. Reading it, I became aware of my heartbeat, and the warmth in the palms of my hands, and the calls of cardinals through the front window.
I went to my closet and pulled out a tall box, heavy with handwritten letters. Each colorful envelope was a handprint of the friend who’d sent it: transparent, ethereal aerograms from Ruth, hand folded, asymmetrical collages from Julie, thick handmade paper and pressed-flower poetry from Zoe. This was before email, of course, when all of us were traveling the world over and heady with hormones and adventure and first love. We lavished such time and craftsmanship on those letters.
Returning to my computer, I skimmed the letter I’d sweated over all morning, then deleted it. I wrote again–this time from the heart, open, quickly, as though to a dear friend.
And I felt so weightless! I was writing from what I know, shining a light instead of dwelling in the painful darkness these letters usually create. And it struck me that this was perhaps the first time I’ve ever truly communicated with this man. I’d been hiding, prevaricating, fearfully denying him any real communion all along.
It also struck me that if I can lavish this much time on someone who has brought me so much pain, I can certainly put a little more care and effort into communicating with the dear friends who have sustained and grown with me over the years.
The human mind weighs pain heavier than pleasure. The fear of losing what we have–even if we’re not all that fond of it!–generally outweighs the anticipation of a new joy. This psychological quirk has a lot to answer for (though it can be overcome by conscious reframing), and I wonder if it might somehow be responsible for this tendency to spend a disproportionate amount of time on the things and people that upset us.
I feel I may have short-circuited it, though, by writing this letter to my nemesis with an open heart. After all, with all the contemplation and transformation that knowing him inspired in me, isn’t he in a sense my friend? Not that I need to spend another moment fostering a destructive relationship; simply in the sense that I can lift myself up in the letters I write. I can make my necessary communications with him instruments of my expansion. I can choose to feel good even when engaging with someone who truly dislikes me. Huh.
Well then. Send.