Category Archives: Letters to the World

Dear Cancer

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Dear Cancer,

Brad Paisley says you’re not supposed to say the word “cancer” in a song. Hermione Granger says fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself. My grandmother wouldn’t talk about you, she faced you three times, battling you twice herself. My friend’s mom incorporated you into her battle cry. You’re the first thing you rule out and the last thing you double-check for. You’re the ultimate way to put your priorities in order fast and the worst way to test out your health insurance. You’re the most definite way to pick your new favorite color.

Pink. Grey. Teal. White. Peach. Lavender.

Breast. Brain. Ovarian. Lung. Uterine…Cancer.

Probably the only word in the world that has the effect that you do – it’s like a mortar explosion or a grenade detonating at your feet. You get thrown through the air, and land on your back, gasping for air. You lay there, listening for those around you, needing to hear that life-pulse, till the dust begins to settle.

Cancer. You’re a dirty word. The second time you are spoken, you are broken and raw. You are fear drawn from the air, tangible in images and matter. No matter how often you are said, you do not deflate. No – you ring like gunshot in a valley, echoing on in the silence. You are a single angry, forsaken scream resounding in an empty canyon. You are heavy ringing footsteps, nail-shod boots on marble. Calculated and exact, snapping at the corners, sounding like the crack of lightning in a tree. You are glass hitting the floor, loud and aching and startling, then you are sliding and scratching, shards spinning across the floor. You are the broken pieces embedded in the carpet, clawing at bare feet before receding again.

You are defiant hope. The hidden sparks beneath the coals, waiting for the stillness to stop. A hand thrust deep down would burn unexpectedly. The lesson would be learned. Fear only goes so deep until it meets the inevitability of the human spirit.

You are a knot in a rope. Sliding down, it is a harsh jerk when you least expect it. The stumbling knot on the highwire, the one that makes you trip and fall 25 feet. But also the knots in the net below, catching you when you fall, keeping you from the impact of the cold, hard ground. It cradles you, swinging gently as you catch your breath and gather the strength to roll off and get to your feet. It’s there to catch you if you stumble because your head is still spinning.

You’re the thing that brings people to their knees, but you give them the defiance to get back up. You make them ask why, and then give it up to God. Your greatest lesson is that you can’t be mad at something you can’t change. There’s no point – you just have to pick up the pieces, patch them together the best you can, and move on. You bring people with you.

You are the ultimate test in relationships. You teach people who means the most to them, who will be there through it all. You are hand-holding, tissues and watery smiles. You are words choked with emotion. You are ‘drop everything and go.’

You are a bringer of compassion. You are a teacher. A cruel one. You are incomprehensible, and painfully clear. You are a driving force that creates other forces – forces of love and charity, hope and prayer.

Above all, you teach us what is most important in this world.

Cancer.

There, I said it.

M.

 

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Dear New England

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Dear New England,

It’s so strange being back with you. We parted ways for a while last September. It was a little hard, but not unbearable. I mostly missed your bright autumn colors and your stone walls.

Your stone walls were something I’d forgotten till I returned, but I fell in love with them again. I’m not sure which ones delight me the most: the ones that are so neat and tidy, it’s like a photograph taken from a fairy tale or the ones that are crumbling and uneven, covered in rampant English ivy. It is so picturesque to see them dividing plots of land like a line of stitches in a quilt. One of my favorite things in the world is to drive alongside you, looking at the shadows you cast on the grass.

When I think about it, ours is a love hate relationship. I fight being here, but every once in a while I love you. I love your autumn, your first snow. To be honest, I like every snow you create, but only for a few hours. Once the sparkle is gone and the slush rushes into the streets like an invading army, I resume my hatred.

But just when I think I can’t dislike you more, I recall fond memories of your nights. Always with friends. A chilly July night in Sharon, Vermont, perched atop a hill huddling together for warmth while whispering as we gazed up at the stars. Watching the sun set on Lake Pocotopaug here in East Hampton, making the canvas of sailboats seem like transcendant gauze as the last kisses of sunlight streamed through. Silent nights in the Berkshires, surrounded by young girls who lie shoulder to shoulder as they listen for voices across a tiny lake to sing them to sleep.

So many spots around where I live you cannot clearly see the stars. I hate that. I am grounded by them, yet embraced by them, and you are stingy with them. The only guardian that I can see is Orion, and he stands vigilantly alone. But sometimes they burst from your skies with surprising clarity. I’m enraptured and can hardly tear my eyes away from your velvety expanse. Don’t think that it makes everything better though.

I’m still having issues transitioning back from the South – a place where people smile when they see you, wave even if they don’t know you, and ask after your day and stop to listen. Few in Connecticut stop to say hello, let alone to “rockawhile” (verb, to sit with friends and rock for a time while taking part in conversation). I find it terribly sad.

I’ve spent the last months trying to figure you out. You’re this strange mix of tradition and progression. Family is the keystone, yet work seems to be what you do best. And who needs neighbors when you have trees? Because obviously, maple syrup is more touching than a plate of cookies. Also, is it true? Do you have a caffeine IV? A straight coffee drip into your veins? Because Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are telling me that.

Michael Buble’s song Home is on right now. I wonder absently if that’s what you are any more. You welcome me briefly, then thrust me back to the person I once was. You don’t do well with change, do you? I laugh, because you’re a democratic region. I don’t think I’ll ever understand you.

Being back for a few days makes me feel like I’ve been here forever. You have that talent – making people feel as if they’ve been here forever, when in reality they’ve just arrived. It’s the most ironic thing in the world. You live fast paced, but it feels like Tuck Everlasting sometimes. Like the wheel is turning, but we’re stationary.

But we’ll see. Maybe this summer we’ll come to a compromise. You try to impress me, I’ll try to impress you. Perhaps we’ll come to some sort of agreement as to what you are to me.

Sincerely,

Meghan

Dear Virginia {letter #1}

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Dear Virginia,

I headed down this evening to my institute class, noting that warmer weather was already here – it was a little too warm for my taste, especially as I haven’t pulled out more than my teeshirts, sandals and a single pair of capris. You welcomed spring a few days ago with a fantastic thunderstorm that whipped through my wardrobe pretty quick, I had to change every time I came in from being with you.

While I was inside the meetinghouse expounding upon obscure verses of Isaiah, I heard the roaring lullaby of a lawn mower outside the window. The curtains were drawn, but I was still getting distracted by you. I thought you were beautiful in the autumn, but I realize that fall was just the opening band for your spring. Almost overnight the trees and saplings burst into bloom and daffodils sprang from the cold ground like golden trumpets welcoming the bumblebees back. You were silent in the wintertime, and it feels like your symphony has been awakened again.

Sometimes, when I can’t drift off to sleep and my roommates are already dreaming, I turn on my little lamp and bend the head down low before tiptoeing over to the window and opening it. I read for a while, listening to your mountain lullaby and amphibian symphony while my eyes blur together the lines of Robert Frost, James Joyce and Jane Austen. Even after I’ve closed the sash again, deep in the night, I can still hear you through the panes and I fall asleep dreaming of mountains and meadows and friends.

I was really excited because on Monday we had my English class outside. It was early in the afternoon, and none of us wanted to be cooped up on the third floor, trapped inside with a wall of windows to tempt us. We found a spot on the porch, all of us, and settled cross-legged for the next hour. I could tell the others felt it too, and I didn’t mind because we were all stretching and sighing with relief and pleasure as the sun streamed onto our skin. Dr. Cluff lined his books on a window ledge and paced gently back and forth as he spoke, and we talked of Chekov and Stegner and Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. I think he caught on quickly that my thoughts were being drawn to you – he smiled and held the novel in his hand a little higher.

I tried, I promise, to concentrate on the conversation, but I was distracted by the color of your mountains. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blue like that. It made me tilt my head and smile and try to conjure a name for it. It was a lazy class, listening to you play with the flag and branches, watching you twine your way through the pansies and daffodils and give the evergreens a fright.

But back to tonight – I stepped outside the meetinghouse, and you hit me like a ton of bricks. I could smell the musky sweet perfume of freshly mown grass mixing with the scent of distant magnolias. The sky was a blue that deserves a fancier name – azure, maybe. It looked like you’d painted the clouds with your fingers, dragging them across the sky in indistinct patterns. I could see the moon – it reminded me of a faded pearl brooch holding the clouds in place like a scarf wrapped around a lady’s shoulders. I crossed the parkinglot, feeling like you’d wrapped yourself around me: I wasn’t too chilly, and the breeze played with my hair and tugged on the sleeves and hem of my shirt.

The best part was when I started up the hill and glanced over to the west – you’d lit up the spire of the chapel and thrown the trees into a deep silhouette. The sky looked like you’d swirled creamy clouds into watercolor paint, all soft shades of peach and blue and lavender. I could hear the trickling of water nearby, running over red rocks as it flowed down the hill.

I realized then why people grow up to be poets and photographers and country musicians. Because they’re trying to keep you from slipping through the fingers of memory, trying to keep that little piece of heaven-on-earth in their palms and catching your perfume in a little glass bottle to keep in their shirt pockets. I suppose we all do it – try to bring a part of you along. After eight months with you, I figure I’m doing it too. Trying to store you away to bring you home with me, to tuck you under my pillow for sweet dreams.

Thank you, though, for being beautiful. Sometimes you’re a little flamboyant about it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you that much more. You’re awesome, and I’m not-so-secretly in love with you.

Always,

Meg