A Letter I Wrote Long Ago, by Jack Andrew Urquhart

Pen and Paper

©2012 by Jack Andrew Urquhart (712 words)

9.29.2003

Dear Mom,

I guess insomnia, like so many other things, runs in our family, because here I am—early on the last day of my visit—wide awake and thinking how wonderful it has been to spend this week with you and to reconnect with my birth family.

Please know that I think it a privilege to have been part of your 80th birthday celebration. The hassles of bursting balloons and rock-hard sherbet aside, I derived so much pleasure out of seeing you bask in the love and devotion of the many friends who gathered last Friday to celebrate all the good things you are and do.

I know that I am sometimes critical and judgmental (another family birthright?), but I want you to know that I love and admire you.  I am proud of the vital and vigorously involved life that you lead.  And of course, I’m grateful to you and to Dad for the many gifts you’ve given me—among them an appreciation for words and conversation, for reading and writing, as well as a predisposition to listen and observe.  It is because of that heritage that now and then I am blessed with a glimpse into the truest, secret corners of another human being’s heart.  And when that happens, I remember that I am not alone, not cut off from the rest of the world, and certainly not solitary in whatever troubles, big or small, I might be experiencing at the time.

That said, Mom, I can say to you that I recognize how badly you need regular reassurance that you are loved and appreciated, and how particularly important it is for you to receive those assurances from your immediate family.  I wish I could wave a magic wand and make everything right in our clan; but what I can do is remind you of some old truisms: that is often those who love you who have the most power to cause you grief; that love sometimes wears many masks, and some of them are not very pretty.  What’s more, when it comes to family interactions, I think that sometimes when we are being most hurtful, when we are being most critically observant of each other, it is because we are reacting (in exaggerated fashion) to a reflection of our own worst fears and faults.  It’s a look-and-see game that is as old as the hills, and a game that we play best (or worst!) with those who are closest to us—our parents, brothers and sisters—because they more than any others have helped to make us who we are.

Of course, I’m speculating here, but if there’s any good news in this, perhaps it’s that as we get older, this same pastime can serve to open our hearts, can help us learn to love ourselves and each other a little more for all our similarities, differences, strengths, and weaknesses.

So, in bringing these ramblings to a close, I want to leave you with an observation: I believe—any and all appearances to the contrary—that your family loves you.  It may not be the prettiest, most pleasing kind of love, but look closer.  Look behind our masks.  And listen, really listen to us.  If you do, I believe you’ll be able to discern it for yourself—the love.  It’s there, hiding behind the scowls and frowns, behind all the hard and thorny words.  I know because I’ve found it there myself a few times.  And every time I do, I’m reminded of a poem I read years ago, the last lines of which made me cry on the spot for a sad truth recognized.  My memory is not what it once was, but I haven’t forgotten these few lines from a poem entitled “Goodbye,” written by a woman named Chana Bloch.  Here is what she wrote:

When they said, ‘if you eat this fruit,
You will die,’
They didn’t mean
Right away.

Can you imagine any truer words?  I guess it’s all—all our ups and downs—“just life” as they say.  Some of it tastes wonderful, some of it incredibly bitter.  And ultimately, all of it is lethal.  But in the meantime, what a banquet.  What a gift.

Andy

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About jaurquhart

Jack Andrew Urquhart was born in the American South. Following undergraduate work at the University of Florida, Gainesville, he taught in Florida's public schools. He earned a Master of Arts degree in English, Creative Writing, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was the winner of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Award for Fiction (1991). His work has appeared online at Clapboard House Literary Journal, Crazyhorse Literary Journal, and Standards: The International Journal of Multicultural Studies. He is the author of So They Say, a collection of self-contained, inter-connected stories and the short story, They Say You Can Stop Yourself Breathing. Formerly a writing instructor at the University of Colorado’s Writing Program, Mr. Urquhart was, until 2010, a senior analyst for the Judicial Branch of California. He resides in southern California.
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3 Responses to A Letter I Wrote Long Ago, by Jack Andrew Urquhart

  1. rlboyington says:

    Lovely and loving. Thank you for your profound love and honesty … especially toward this outsider. I sure know of and respect your love for your family.

  2. termitespeaker says:

    So nice, Jack (or would you prefer to be addressed as “Andy”?). I have no relatives left that are closer than third cousins and never had brothers and sisters or nieces and nephews, but I certainly understand a lot about relationships with mothers!

  3. marydpierce says:

    Huh. Now it’s my turn to have a comment I wrote seeming disappear. I wrote yesterday about what I thought of your loving and tenderly observant letter. And I asked – did you ever give it to her?

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