Saturday, November 29, 2014

Less the Data Than the Life

Lori and I write Christmas letters.  I know that not everyone thinks that’s a useful practice.  They can sound grandiose and braggadocios.  They can read like saccharine.  All that, plus the tendency of such epistles to over-assess the reader’s interest in the minutiae of the writer’s life.  If we really wanted to know the intricacies of someone’s everyday life – paper or plastic, one-ply or two, gel or paste, the current odometer reading -- we could simply read Facebook.

I understand all that.  But still we write the letters.  In our defense, we try our best to capture some essence of the forest of our year rather than naming every tree.  We keep it to one page.  This year's narrative will almost certainly make note of Lori's retirement in June and the addition of chickens to our little homestead in March.  Readers might detect a note of smugness when we report how many elements of our Thanksgiving Dinner came out of our garden and coop, but the availability of such foodstuffs is as much an occasion for surprise as gratitude.  The letter will, in other words, include a few details.  But we assume that any interest by our friends has less to do with our calendars than our growth and well-being and try to write with that editorial eye and ear.  Essentially we try our best to write a letter that we would want to read.

In truth, though, I suspect we would write the letter even if we never mailed it out.  A Christmas letter is simply the mechanism we have adopted for reflecting on our lives.  Who have we been this year?  Where have we grown?  What have we attempted; to what have we aspired?  What has moved us deeply?  What have we set aside; what have we moved beyond?  The Christmas letter has become for us a kind of annual physical for our marital soul – our inside version of the question Ralph Waldo Emerson reportedly posed to his friend Henry David Thoreau after a long separation, “what has become clearer to you since last we met?”  Or, otherwise phrased, “what have you learned…?”

What have we learned in the course of this year?  What has become clearer? 

Today is the day we’ll be sitting down over a cup of hot tea in the company of each other and something of those searching questions.  Maybe a few of their answers will find their way into a letter. It could be that someone actually reads it.  But whatever words ultimately find their way polished and on the page, the point will not simply be a letter that has been written.  The point will be a year gratefully lived; one, we trust, will end up piquing our curiosity about the next one beginning just around the corner.