Today I wrote three letters on paper with a pen. There is the temptation to wax nostalgic about old-school correspondence, to mourn its decline, and to swear a solemn oath that I will revive the practice, but my faith in such resolutions has waned over time. In short, not everything has to be a movement.
Two of the three letters were thank-you notes. As a matter of fact all three were thank-you notes, but the third was a combination condolence and thank you, about which more later.
The first thank you was to a reader who sent a gift. Time and simple logistics preclude my ever adequately reciprocating all the good will and good things sent my way over the years (and I am not even beginning to address my email inbox or social media messages, which long ago exceeded my ability to individually respond — although I still read every one), but it feels good to put my thanks in ink whenever time and circumstance allow, and so I did.
The second thank you was to a reader and longtime passing acquaintance who wrote me a well-timed and heartening letter. He also included a boxed set of the works of Nassim Nicholas Taleb based in part on Taleb’s referencing my longtime favorite French philosopher Michel de Montaigne. As a result I am now chewing my way through “Fooled by Randomness,” which in the early going I have found engaging enough to keep me going, but intellectual enough that I have to revisit some passages two or three times in order to tease the thread of the thought from the fuzz in my head.
The third letter was written to a man I have never met. A man who lives in New York City and recently lost his spouse. This man is from a small town in the Midwest but found his way to the Big Apple through a love of art, theater and music. I don’t remember how I first happened upon him, but I began to follow him online some years ago. Our correspondence has been limited to Twitter exchanges and a smattering of emails. He is a freelancer, as am I, and his work — and even more so the matter-of-fact manner in which he approaches it — has long been an encouragement to me albeit from afar.
It is one of those odd modern relationships in which I have observed this person in his work, observed him survive a near-death illness, observed him meet and marry the love of his life, observed him support her through a long-term illness, then just recently observe him losing her at the precipice of hope — and yet these observations have occurred via electrons across an 1,100-mile gulf. At this same distance I have watched him hit deadline after deadline, and often, when he conveys his joy over a painting or a production, I hear echoes of my farm-boy self, never quite sure I belong in the lobby of a theater — much less backstage — or at the keyboard, and yet thrilled to have landed there, and working like mad to see that I am allowed to stay.
And so it seemed I owed this man more than a click and a “like.” I scratched out a note (my penmanship has always been schizophrenic; in these late digital years its shifting styles are impaired by a flat-out lack of practice) of sorrow and thanks, sealed and stamped it, then carried it to the end of the driveway with the other two, placed them in the mailbox, shut the door, raised the flag, and — content though I am on our back forty — envied them their journey into the company of good people.
An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio”(tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.
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