The package of letters is staring me down. I finally took them out of their hiding place from my dining table chair. I couldn’t look at them the first couple of days, couldn’t acknowledge their existence. Tonight, I moved them into sight.
I eye them warily while playing solitaire and listening to the second book in Elena Ferante’s Neapolitan series. I try to escape into the world of two friends in Naples, but the letters taunt me with their presence. But still, I feel ready to read them tonight. Almost ready.
I eat dinner—disappointing leftovers, the meat fatty and gristly and the vegetables a melange of sameness. Still eying the letters. Still avoiding them.
I pour myself a gin and tonic, the scent from a goji tarocco orange-scented candle heavy in the air, curating the moment to come. I open the package and bring out its contents—a stack of 14 envelopes. The top envelope embossed with my name. Still, I avoid the letters.
I start writing, anything to avoid reading what’s inside those envelopes. These letters are just another reminder that my life has blown up and I was the one who pulled the pin on the grenade. The signs of the explosion are all over. My wide-open days. The text messages. The meetings with therapists, spiritual directors, and former co-workers. The sadness that emerges as I walk by familiar places, the anger that awakens me at night.
But these letters have a unique hold over me. The envelopes hold words from people to whom I gave 2.5 years of my life. Who I ministered to during a pandemic. Who I laughed and cried and feasted and worshiped with. The people who I left last month without an explanation.
Tears fill my eyes as I type these words, a manifestation of the grief my body contains. The letters remind me that I didn’t get to say goodbye. That I may be misunderstood. That I made people angry or sad or confused by how I left. That I don’t know what to do with the truth, because it is still wreaking havoc in my body and soul. That I had to leave these people I loved because I could no longer continue in a toxic environment. That everything in me wants to be understood and vindicated. That these desires may never happen. These letters are the most physical, touchable, real-life evidence that the explosion wasn’t a metaphor.
My life is changing and will continue to change. Into what? I have no idea. The debris still floats to the charred floor where my life used to be. The beliefs and assumptions still in movement as they seek a new configuration. Thomas Merton’s familiar prayer resurfaces before me:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
These words have a way of cycling through my consciousness on occasion, usually in moments when I am lost in my lostness. The feeling of disorientation, of in-betweenness, of waiting for a settling, are once more here. The perils—tonight in the form of some letters—will continue to come. But my breath escapes my body in a deep exhale at this moment, my flesh recalling that I am not alone as I read these letters.
I open the first envelope.