Writing a letter to a stranger is all about trust. To offer your thoughts and opinions, some of which you might never say out loud, is truly relationship building. But there’s also something refreshing about writing to someone who is not fully aware of your daily life, your flaws, the way you look, or how cute your children are. They get a totally different picture of things, which makes the whole thing special. Our relationship took awhile to gain traction, and it was about a year before Michelle and I got to the meat and potatoes of things. Now I feel comfortable writing to her about just about anything, including some things I might never say out loud to people in my daily life.
Why we think of up as good and down as bad, I’m not sure. That directionality seems arbitrary, but everyone knows that heaven is above us and hell is below. When we are sad, we are feeling closer to hell than to heaven. We are feeling low. We are feeling down.
I think we must try, though, through our artmaking or loving or any of the myriad actions we perform in a day, to “sing of somewhat higher things.”
Anyone who’s ever kept a journal — whether for brief reflections or recording prayers and petitions — can attest to writing as a powerful form of thinking, perhaps the most powerful. Even a very basic written account can provide order in a chaotic area, a structure when there seems to be little or none. Journaling helps move us toward greater internal clarity, cutting through the smokescreens of confusion or the ego. We may spot unhealthy patterns in our lives that we’ve blocked out, consciously or otherwise. Or we might work through a period of suffering in writing that spurs us toward the growth of the soul and invites us to live more fully — as Sarton puts it, moving “toward what we will become from where we are.”
It is hard to come here and not feel guilty. So I come bearing gifts: a bag of navel oranges and three pairs of warm socks (from my overstuffed drawer, yes, but clean and only slightly worn). In the morning they will all be snatched up, along with half of the oranges. Meanwhile, I stand outside in the dark and drizzle under the lamplight, waiting to be let in. My pillow’s stuffed in a white trash bag as deep blue splats form on my sleeping bag. It’s 11:00 p.m., January 6.
There are only four women staying at the shelter tonight, Maria tells me. Should be pretty quiet.
The romance of snow-dusted rooftops and tree branches limned with white becomes much less lovely when bitter winds whip down your street, or clumps of grime-encrusted slush collect at the corners of city streets. For those of us who have to live through winter, going to work and the gym and the grocery store as usual, “a mind for winter” must be developed when we’re outside as well as inside.