Finding this card tucked away in a box felt like receiving a love letter from “the other side.” I’ve kept it in the box for so long without reading the message that I’d forgotten its origin, and even the fact it was used. A couple of days ago I opened it, thinking maybe I’d send to someone, and discovered anew that it is a birthday card from my long-gone mother, sent in 1985. It is full of questions about how things were going for me on various projects I’d long since forgotten, and the reminder of her level of interest in my life was touching. Since we lived in the same town during the years I was raising children, I never had letters from her as evidence of this.
But the most amazing thing was the message on the cover. “The things I never said...” I was flabbergasted that I’d never noticed or “got” that message before, that she was aware there were some “things she never said” and maybe this was her way of saying them. I did not grow up in a family that openly expressed caring, concern, and support. I don’t recall ever hearing the words, “I love you” from my parents. I don’t feel deprived for that — I knew I was loved and cared for. We just didn’t talk about it. So, now I find this message about those words that were never said ... I think they are still waiting somewhere, and I think I just realized what they are. Perhaps that card finally said the things for her.
Perhaps the card is most poignant because of its ambiguity. I have no way of knowing what was on her mind when she selected it. Shucks, if I found the card on the rack at the store today, I may think of all the stories I have not yet gotten around to writing, and that if I wrote non-stop for the rest of my life, I’d never be able to cover even half of what I’ve already experienced and thought. Or that conversations always branch and there are always “roads not taken.”
That’s pretty much how I understood it at the time. Just as I always have at least half a dozen writing projects underway, she always had stacks and piles of paintings, glass, sewing and other arts and crafts projects underway, so she could also have meant it that way.
But she sent that card a generation ago when she was about the age I am now. Perhaps she was a generation ahead of me in understanding and understood it then as I do now. Perhaps I have caught up?
The card will remain an enigma, but I’m going to hang onto my fresh view of it, because it is so satisfying and enriching.
Meanwhile, it can also serve as a reminder that because readers bring their own experience and needs to the page, even the most carefully crafted story will be understood differently by each one, and perhaps understood quite differently from what we had in mind as we wrote. And that story may be understood one way today and quite differently a generation from now. Our job is to write the words, the stories, the “things,” then release them to serve whatever purpose they will.
Who knows? Perhaps a card, letter or story you’ve already written is tucked away somewhere, waiting for a time many years hence when it will be rediscovered and mean way more than it did at the time. Maybe more than you realized you meant at the time.
Write now: about some of the things you never said that are waiting somewhere. Pu them in a letter and mail them, or write them in a journal. Or write them down and shred or burn them. But write them down.