I am my mother’s daughter.
Along with my mom’s love of music and art, her long, shapely legs and her propensity for worry I also inherited one more, slightly less stellar trait:
I am a Card Hoarder.
There. I said it. I love greeting cards. Back in the day before internet and e-cards, nothing would make my day more than the discovery of a quirky, funky little card shop tucked in a random block in Seattle. I had my favorites and would regularly drop a considerable sum of money at these merchants. As the cashier rung up my impressive collection of greeting cards she would undoubtedly comment, “Wow, you must know a lot of people having birthdays this month!” Uh, yeah. Well, sorta. “No, not really,” I mumbled as I averted my eyes from hers. My card hoarding was my Dirty Little Secret.
My mother was a gifted artist and taught me appreciation of line, color and form. I grew up in a house full of color and art and music and very modest means. My dad was a college professor and, with seven kids to support, my parents weren’t exactly art collectors. At least not in the traditional sense. As my mom grew older, she tended to hold onto things more and for the last twenty or so years of her life she always had an impressive collection of greeting cards stashed in the desk of her bedroom, precariously secured with an old, dry rubber band. When birthdays and significant events would arise, she would often ask me to buy a card for this person or that, so that she could send it off. I would remind her of her collection in the bottom drawer and she would summarily hush me, reminding me that “those cards” are “too special” to part with. Off to Hallmark I went, searching for that (bland) card that would convey the proper message without being so beautiful, artistic and witty as to tempt my mother to exclaim “I can’t send this one!” as she stealthily slid it into her growing collection.
Come to my house and you will find an old plastic bag in the top drawer of a file cabinet in my office that holds an equally impressive collection of greeting cards. Mama would be proud. Many of these cards I purchased with a specific person or event in mind, but never quite got around to mailing it off. Sometimes it simply slipped my mind but honestly, mostly I just couldn’t do it. During a recent trip to Bainbridge Island I stumbled upon a quaint little gift shop that, much to my delight, had an entire back wall lined with greeting cards! Not just any greeting cards, mind you, but a sizable collection of cards from my favorite greeting card designer. (And yes, I do have one–KOCO New York.) Forty dollars later, I left with a sack of cards, happily musing over who I would send each one to. I haven’t sent any. Well, not yet anyway.
Christmas cards are a whole ‘nuther thing. As life has become busier and more technology-based, the traditional, hand-written Christmas card has gone the way of the Betamax. As I began to receive less and less paper cards and more and more “photo greetings” with nary a personal signature on them, I staged my own personal Christmas card revolution. With the tree up and decorated, a rousing yet moving selection of holiday tunes on shuffle, and a tall glass of Baileys and brandy on ice at my elbow, I would sit and hand-write each personal greeting on every card I sent. As I looked at each name on my list, I would think of that person and write a paragraph of what that certain someone had meant to me that year. I loved my tradition, my personal protest of busy lives spinning out of control and my attempt to hold onto what was important to me. And then I began to feel like a fish swimming upstream. Dejected and tired, my tradition was abandoned last year. I can’t even remember if I sent any Christmas cards out, and yet I know I have boxes and boxes of (fabulous) holiday cards in the office closet. (And to those of you who send the year-end-photocopied-single-spaced-pages-long recap of you and your family’s exploits…keep ’em coming! I love those!)
Recently I had been feeling disconnected and alone. I know I’m not the only one who sometimes wonders if I’ve made an impact in this life, or even if anyone really thinks of me when I’m not standing in front of them. At the end of our lives, I believe that it’s our relationships with one another that matter and really not much else. One afternoon during this trying time I went to get the mail as I do every day. There, in the pile of bills and solicitations and magazines peeked out a colorful, stamped envelope addressed with real handwriting to me! My niece had sent me a card with a dog doing yoga on the front. “I saw this and thought of you” she simply wrote on the inside, in her own handwriting. I sat with that card and thought of my niece, buying that card, writing her thoughts, addressing it to me, adhering the stamp and sliding it into the mail. Thoughtful, mindful actions that transformed my day that afternoon. A simple act impacting a relationship, connecting lives and bringing meaning and joy.
I thought of that sack of cards. They really need to go.
My mom loved art and I’m quite certain that part of her card hoarding was her (affordable) way to collect little 4 x 5 masterpieces that, for whatever reason, had spoken to her. I get that. I also know that for as loving as she was, my mom struggled with expressing her emotions and instead put a lot of energy into suppressing them. Her life reflected this. When I was a teenager I often felt like I scared her with my big feelings. “She feels in italics and thinks in capitals” is my tagline, after all. I am a stoic Swede, but I get angry big and I love big. I am passionate with my feelings and I have been ashamed by my feelings. When I would fall in love and swoon, my mother would warn me, “Don’t let him know how you feel!” I know this was her attempt to protect her daughter from being hurt, but I also think it taught me that big feelings need to be held close to the chest, not on my sleeve.
I am my mother’s daughter. But I am also my own person.
I love Facebook because it has reconnected me with so many people from my past and keeps me connected with people in my present. I hate Facebook because our (complicated) lives seem to be too easily summed up in a clever status update. It’s all too quick, too mindless, too simple. I often think of how special is it to hold a piece of paper in my hands, a piece of paper that has been touched by the hands of another, their handwriting scrawling their thoughts and emotions across the page, the envelope addressed, taking care to get everything Just Right. I had a friend once tell me he printed off my email that I had sent to him just so that he could sit with my words in his hands and chew on them. I love that. I love chewing on other people’s words and thoughts. I love knowing that, for that time they took to write, I mattered to them in a way that I could tangibly and physically hold in my hands.
So here’s my plan: I’m calling it Operation Bring Down The House Of Cards. Help me tear down my house of cards and let me tell you what you mean to me. For the next three months, until the end of the year I want to compile a database of names and addresses-all of your names and addresses-so that I may send out all of my cards once and for all. Whether you are family or friend, whether I went to kindergarten with you, whether you know me through yoga, whether I’ve met you once or I see you every week, or whether I worked beside you for years. Challenge me. Send me your name and snail mail address and each week, I will begin writing and sending out my stash of cards, each with a handwritten note expressing what you mean to me. I want to send you something that you can hold on to, that you can chew on, that you can remember or look at during those times when you wonder if you’ve made an impact in this life. Because each of us have, perhaps in ways that we’ve never imagined.
As a yogi, I am learning that backbending becomes easier once I learn to fearlessly lead with my heart. Heart wide open, feet and legs firmly rooted, exposing my vulnerable underbelly. During these backbends, I can sometimes feel my mom worrying about me, warning me not to go too far, to not expose too much to too many. I tell her it will be okay. I like to think that as it is with yoga, so it is with life. That life, too, gets easier when we lead with our heart open, trusting and connecting.
So, send me your address to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t think about it too much-just do it.
Help me tear down this house of cards once and for all, fearlessly and joyfully.