homage to fall

Taking the Lillybees out on a fall day

I don’t mean to be so self-serving as to direct your attention to a photo of myself (even if it is a great picture, if I do say so myself). What I really want to highlight is how beautiful DC’s Fall 2011 has been. Every one of my favorite colors is captured in this photo, and I do not recall a fall that has been as brilliant or splendid. Or quite as long. I know, I know, I just jinxed us, right? But I have already asked the weather gods what sort of sacrifice they need in order to (1) feel the strength of my appreciation; (2) extend (is that too greedy?) this season; and (3) ward off a crappy winter.

During these insanely busy last two weeks, I have tried to walk a little slower to my meetings, spend more time looking out my office window, and generally just appreciate this weather that is not hot and humid, wet and wild, or bone-chillingly cold. I’m not really a stop-to-smell-the-roses kind of person, but I have definitely paused to appreciate the season.

Sorry if it rains later.

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words are not enough

I rarely suffer from a lack of words. I use them to complain about the mundane. It’s too hot outside, or maybe too cold. I snagged my new tights, poor me I can’t run anymore, and how about those pet peeves? The restaurant down the street isn’t serving my favorite soup. Soccer practice every night is inconvenient to the working mom. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Then something happens and for one moment (or a sleepless night) you are reminded of how lucky you are. Suddenly you’re entirely grateful for the soccer schedule, snow or no snow.

Bad things inexplicably happen to good people, and it’s with this sense of bewilderment that my heart goes out to my little sister’s best friend Ashley. On Halloween, while many of us chased our costumed kids down the streets of our hometowns, as our kids approached houses to beg for candy (sometimes forgetting to say “trick or treat” and even more often forgetting to say thank you) Ashley gave birth two months too early to baby girl Harper. When I saw the news on Facebook, I did the math in my head and optimistically thought of the preemie babies I know (and know of) who were born that early and who are now thriving children.

It’ll be okay, I reassured myself. It’s Ashley. She is maybe one of the nicest young women I know. (I want to call her a kid because I’ve known her since she was a child.) Ashely has a fantastic sense of humor and radiates warmth. Ashley and Meghann came to DC for Inauguration weekend in 2009, and she might be my favorite guest I’ve ever hosted, which is why I felt especially bad that on the day before Inauguration she was awakened not by an alarm clock but by a string of cursing from me when I woke up that bitter cold morning to frozen pipes that had burst in the basement. Ashley is poised. Ashley is strong. Her baby will be fine.

Still, I hugged my kids extra tight (in front of their friends which makes Jack a little mad these days) as they left for school. I made a mental note to pick up baby Harper a little Capitol Hill tee shirt the next time go to at Eastern Market. But then baby Harper’s condition turned out to be worse than feared and a decision was made to fly her to Boston where she could receive medical care from a specialist. Sadly, for some reason I will never understand, Mother Nature had other plans. Freezing rains caused the pilots to have to turn the helicopter around and return to Bangor. Baby Harper died.

I can never imagine what Ashley, her husband, and their families are going through. In the last few weeks, my step-sister lost her beloved grandmother and my father his life-long best friend. But they were, to quote from a tale told in one of the Harry Potter books, greeting death as an old friend, after well-lived lives. To lose a baby, who in those short months of pregnancy comes to represent every hope and dream you have for the future, is a tragedy that no one can ever be prepared for and that will change Ashley’s outlook forever.

I wish so many things for Ashley. I wish she had carried baby Harper to term. I wish she’d had time to hold her baby close, coo over her, and count fingers and toes. I wish she’d had time to relax (albeit nervously) and enjoy those first few moments of motherhood instead of experiencing in the worst way the fear and panic aspects that go along with the job.

Whether it is too hot or too cold outside or we are too busy or annoyed at something menial, time is the one constant and sometimes the one thing we don’t have enough of. I wish for Ashley that she and Harper had had more of it together.

the long lost art of letter writing

https://i2.wp.com/thrillofthequill.freetoasthost.net/images/thrillofthequill.bmpWe rarely write letters anymore. When was the last time you received a newsy, handwritten letter in the snail-mail from a dear friend or family member? (The only one who writes to me these days is the woman from the Tom Ford cosmetic counter at Bergdorf where I bought two lipsticks over a year ago. It’s nice that she still sends me the occasional note with color swatches and samples, but for once I would love an unexpected letter in the mail.) Do you remember the last time you were excited to retrieve the mail because you were anticipating correspondence from someone you had recently written to? On that note, when was the last time you actually wrote a letter?

A piece on All Things Considered that aired in September featured two women who had become pen pals in 1960, stayed in touch all these years, and just recently met. It was one of those stories that you stay in your car and finish listening to because it’s so touching. A month later, I’m still thinking about this story. It struck a chord.

As a kid and young teenager, I wrote letters all the time. I remember summer vacations at my dad’s, waiting for letters from my girlfriends back in Maine. Those letters were my connection to who broke up with whom, what new school clothes had been purchased, and all the happenings at the local mall. They sustained me. But more than that, they deepened our friendships.

I even had a pen pal from Austria. I don’t remember the details of how our correspondence came about, but her name was Elsa and she once sent me a Christmas tree ornament. I remember the delicate texture of the air mail paper and how European handwriting just looked different from American scrawl. We kept in touch all through high school and a little bit into college. Over the years I had other pen pals from distant lands. These relationships gave me insights into countries I had never visited and lives I could never imagine. Contrast that to today where I have close friends whose handwriting I could never even identify because we only communicate electronically.

Clearly letter writing (and notes… I’m sure kids don’t pass notes in study hall anymore) has been replaced by email and texts. Even my grandmother emails. I get the benefits email provides, such as instant gratification, but here’s the thing: would I ever let my kids email with some stranger in another country? Not on your life. While there is no way of knowing whether Elsa in Austria was really a 13-year old girl who liked the same music I did, a paper and ink relationship was safe. But more than that, it was profound.

Would the women profiled on NPR had remained lifelong friends if they casually emailed instead of letter writing? Will anyone ever write love letters again? Will my kids ever have a pen pal? Attention spans today may be short, but letters provide a chance for longevity. History needs letters.

So if you want to go old school, write me a letter. I promise to keep the letter (for posterity) and even to write back. You don’t even have to send me lipstick color swatches.