handwritten letters



Several months ago, in the height of summer, I wrote a post about my sister entering a convent to become a nun, or rather to finally, after ten years, genuinely pursue the possibility. I wrote of what it might mean for our family, on what it called on each of us to become: rooted, entrenched, and open to transformation. Despite any attempt at preparing, her decision was nonetheless unprecedented. My mind has parceled this year into Life Before the Convent and Life Following the Convent. In the months following, life has been utterly unpredictable. Wholly new, and frightfully lonesome at times. I ache for her to be home, to be less convicted. Moments of peace have crept in too, sometimes existing without me even noticing. For a family whose charisms are joy, affection, and togetherness, having her away is foreign.

Vermont transitioned out of Summer weeks ago, deeply settled into Autumn, and now sheds her layers to breathe in Winter. We summit mountains that are no longer laden with mosquitos, and we admire the escalating cuteness of the goats as they put on winter coats. Farming is a sure way to realize how dramatically Earth and her inhabitants change with the seasons. Why then do we not change, also? Winter requires fortitude, and strengthened mettle, and courage. One of the greatest challenges of Summer was feeling my experience was unique and not traversed by anyone on the internet. That is to say, nowhere could I find thoughtful consideration on siblings + best friends entering religious life. A specific predicament, maybe, but also universal in scope. These are feelings of deep loss and deep bounty, and I desired to walk through those first weeks with others who had done the same. My husband carried the weight of me, humbly listening, and encouraging growth out of pain. Undeserving as I am, it is for him and for you that I am working to shed my layers to breathe in Winter. With respect to Courage and Mettle, I have shared excerpts of a letter to E. in the convent, which are really excerpts of my own heart.

New writing paper! Personally, I wanted to go with the big size but Mark says we are small writing pad people, and so it is. Do I still write you the most letters, even though I don't have words to actually write (as said in my first letter)? The morning I woke up and had an email from you, I... you guessed it... cried. I walked to the milk parlor at 7a.m. and greeted Mark, who was milking since 5:30a.m., with a French press. And then I burst into tears. I mean, it makes sense to you, doesn't it? We hear nothing and spend so much time thinking of you, and then we get a tiny glimmer of you. It's surreal every time. I wanted to write you to say that you should expect that I will cry upon opening every single letter you ever write, so that's no reason not to write me. I have cried more tears — or at least as many — as one ocean this 2016. It's ok. I learn about myself more each time.  ... This is just me, I usually think.

Now, I cry because my heart contracts with longing and confusion and I am convinced there is nowhere for it all to go but through my eyeballs. I called mom the day I got your email and cried (obviously. ok, sam, we get it. you cry a lot.) to her and tried to be raw. She met me smack-dab where I was and just said, "I know. I was there. I will be there. I know." I need her as much as I need you. Do you know I need you? I wish you knew what it was like to be a little sister. It's like being a child to a parent, kind of. Except with the shared experience of being children to the same parents. Our indelible bond is the work of art, and right now it hurts me. It burns, burns, burns.

. . . To love someone so much and have them disappear from sight, off on a camino of unprecedented proportions — this is not something they teach in Sunday school, or regular school, or college. We pray for the religious vocations of Him and of Her, but when do people say, "It's your sister who will go. Imagine it is your sibling." Nobody. So I turn to the Bible, scouring Psalms and Luke's gospel and Job, my friend Job, and still I am lost. I am open to being transformed. As I once said, "Where are you God? I need you now!" except this time I'm not afraid to go pee as a five-year-old; this time I'm navigating a wilderness of thicket and bramble that seems safe but is so dense I barely make it ten feet without falling. Does my use of imagery help you understand me? Do you understand me?

. . . Do you feel my heart, constantly beating for you, my darling sister? 
Ok. I've said all I can. I hope you find me in my words; know me in these words.
I miss you, I love you, I need you.
Always & all ways,




A few unconventional things have happened in our lives this year. First, we left social media. Second, we moved into a 17-foot camper with no internet or phone reception. Now we live in a one-room stone house, but the internet and phone situations are nary better. We have effectively spent most of 2016 disconnected by today's standards. Contrarily, a feeling of deep and true connection has washed over us because now it takes effort to stay in touch; we have become participants in that effort. What began as handwritten letters to our sister in the convent has blossomed into letter writing to many of our nearest and dearest.

The act of writing, enclosing, and stamping a piece of mail is, to us, one of preservation and commitment. We are participating in a show of love that has been used since the Postal Service began routes during a time when America was in its infancy. So, yes, we made good on weekly letters to and fro, and we even purchased a P.O. Box in West Pawlet's tiny downtown (where the only business is the Post Office and all letters go into the "Out of Town Letters" slot).

Moving into a new home has allowed for us to prioritize the spaces within that reflect our lifestyle. A record player here, a long table for hosting dinner parties there. Of all the new spaces  it is our writing desk that excites us the most. Both a service to ourselves and our loved ones, our writing desk is an inviting space conducive to word flow. No clutter and certainly no technology; just a box with writing notions and a pineapple lamp. While Sam has poured over research on which typewriter Gabriel Garcia Marquez used during the 1970s (fascinating research for a Marquez-ophile), for now we abide the humble pen. And how to rightly express the joy of gazing upon the familiar handwritten fonts of our loved ones far away? Pen and paper—nearing on obsolescence in an age of smart phones and tablets, email and text messages—have become beloved, a forum for long-form conversations not limited to a certain number of characters.

Recently, we have spent some time pondering the little things that make life that much more refreshing & joyful on a daily basis. Our writing desk—a space devoted to the expression of the words in our hearts, and to engaging with the people with whom we wish to share those words—certainly falls in that category. We wondered if dedicating a whole post to such an ordinary thing as a writing desk might be a bit much. But that is just the point: it is often the very ordinary aspects of our lives that have the most potential for generating happiness. It is only so often that one gets to embark on a memorable trip, see a favorite musician in concert, or celebrate a birthday or anniversary. It is quite easy to be appreciative of the extraordinary when it comes around. Perhaps most worthwhile of all, though, is seeing the goodness in the ordinary, mundane phenomena of daily life.