Day 7 of my Letter Project corresponded to the Ides of March. I don't know about ides, but I had plenty of ideas. So many that I spent a full hour that Sunday afternoon, sitting in our backyard, writing a four-page letter to my good friend Kristen. I suspect that Kristen read my letter in about four minutes. But no matter. It was worth every three thousand, six hundred seconds of my time to do the work that makes me come alive.
Over the course of the Project, I kept notes in a writing journal, so I know from what I jotted down that I sat outside barefoot as I wrote to Kristen that day. I had become interested in grounding just a few months prior. Grounding, also called Earthing, is a way of trying to connect the electrical currents in one’s body with the electrical currents in the Earth, in pursuit of experiencing greater physical health. My knowledge of grounding remains limited and I no longer keep up with the practice, mostly because I forget to take off my shoes when I'm outside.
Even if I happen to remember, I have never liked for my feet to get dirty. I don't want to have to climb up beside the kitchen sink or sit on the edge of the bathtub to wash my feet before bed, and I certainly don't want to get in bed with dirty feet. On the rare occasion that one of the kids sees my uncovered feet, they will, without fail, like 100% of the time, make an exclamatory remark about “seeing Mom’s bare feet!” Maybe grounding works, or maybe it doesn’t. What I do know is that writing letters grounds me in a way that very few things in life do.
After my Project ended, I tried to think of something to compare writing letters to, something that would encompass the same feelings of steadiness, stability, and strength I had come to know during that year.
I believe gardening works the same magic for those who take on the task with heart. I have to include that little caveat because even though TJ and I have had a garden for a number of years in the past, I can't say I've ever fully inserted my heart into the endeavor. Gardening has felt obligatory thus far, like we should do it, especially me with the veggie sleeve tattoo. But for the sake of comparison, let's just say we were gardening with heart, as I hope we will do one day, and as I know I was doing as I wrote all those letters.
We used to have two garden boxes in our backyard in Naperville, and one year we were even so bold (or naive) as to pay money for a Community Garden Plot a couple miles away. That was the summer it barely rained, we couldn't keep up with the watering, and the weeds on our plot grew so high that the Park District emailed to tell us they were going to mow our plot if we didn't clean up our act. True story. We hurried to pick Bauer's pumpkin that he was trying to grow and left the rest for them to mow.
In other summers, we grew tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, and green peppers in our own backyard. Maybe a year or two we grew radishes, and one time there were carrots. We didn’t branch out much, and I can't say it ever felt like fun, but I occasionally felt a little bit proud to be tinkering in this type of toil.
When TJ and I made up our minds to garden, it quickly became up to us to prepare the soil and plant the seeds and water the plants and pull the weeds. We had to do our little parts in the production in order to experience the best possible outcome and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Alternately, on any given Saturday, I could bike to the Naperville Farmer’s Market or drive to Meijer, my favorite Midwest grocery chain, and buy those very same veggies that someone else’s hands, or machinery, had cultivated on plots of land all over the state or country. The end result of the crisp cucumbers or the vine-ripened tomatoes might have been similar, but it wasn’t the same. Eating the impersonal produce, while still full of vitamins and minerals (let’s hope), wasn’t healthy in all the same ways as eating what my hands touched and my eyes watched all through the growing days.
When I eat what my hands have caused to grow, there is a satisfaction in my soul that is just as life-giving as the food itself. I was able to make headway into a wholehearted life through this gardening endeavor, a life more connected with the cultivation of what is mine to cultivate.
And what is mine to cultivate as I communicate?
To curl my very own fingers around a pen to make letters on paper to send to another person who will curl their very own fingers around my letter as they read it feels wholehearted, substantial, and soul-satisfying. I could just as easily write the same things in an email or text that I could write in a letter. But those ways of talking don’t have the personal touch that writing a letter does. When I choose to give myself to another person in the form of handwritten communication, I am tangibly staking out a plot of ground in our relationship and saying with all my heart and soul, Grow, grow! There is something that a handwritten letter does in a relationship that knits us one to another in deeper and more significant ways.
Rumi said, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
Writing letters is my way.