Are found truths eliminated lies? - proved wrong before truth pursued? Is time not wasted while examining lies? Is proving a lie truth or is truth hiding elsewhere? Are lies scientific evidence when found false, like proving the null hypothesis? Are lies facts when truth is obfuscated? Are lies kind when they are white? Are lies easier to live when when they bely the meaning of facts? Are lies truer when falsified? What about pathological lying? What are we going to do about that?
How is it that concern for others is worthless? real is fake? data are junk to be ridiculed? declarations of love laughable? insults the norm? while we all fall down, together? Is there anyone left standing? This hurts!
She mystifies me, that woman, holding her paint brush confidently in her left hand, sitting as she does left leg over right, appearing poised and comfortable in her flowery dress, hair flying, bun loosely in place. She looks like a beautiful tiger, or an exceptional rose hanging over tall branches, alone and colorful. I wonder what she is thinking, this woman of the late 1920's, an artist painting just a few years since American women could vote. Is she looking forward? She might be aghast if her visionary powers are excellent. Is she trying to forget? While sitting comfortably in that brief time between two world wars. Is she reveling in the present? I hope so.
Oil painting on canvas by MJC Water color on paper by MJC
A big brown office envelope arrived in the mail from an old friend and inside I found, much to my surprise, a bundle of letters written by me fifty years ago when my husband Joe and I were Peace Corps Volunteers in South Asia. At that time, we were living and working in a deeply rural village that, one might say, rode tight against the earth's surface. We felt the tight ride while we experienced several years without electricity, running water or flush toilets, among other things. We encountered food scarcity along with our neighbors, witnessed the horrible power of famine and drought followed by flooding, malnourishment and disease. We felt this tightness to the earth while simultaneously learning to appreciate our neighbors' courage, affection, and strong community spirit which helped them to survive and sometimes even thrive, under such tough conditions. These letters brought it all back, like a flood. Joe and I felt guilty, knowing our situation was temporary and that we would leave our village after several years. We worried about what would happen to the many friends and acquaintances we left behind, who did not have the freedom to walk away, as we did. Our youthful hand-written letters confirmed our affection for our community, told stories of friends we had made, and also pointed out the many frustrations of residing in impoverished circumstances.
In those days, we wrote letters on pieces of paper and sent them via the postal mail. From our village, roughly half of the letters we sent managed to arrive. We often waited months for a reply and our letters declared our frustration with having to wait so long. At least half of the letters that family and friends wrote back to us were also somehow mislaid or lost by the postal system. After several years in South Asia, Joe and I returned to the US, to more schooling, then returning again to Western Asia for several years, then back again to the US for more graduate training and new jobs and responsibilities. When we returned to the US for the second time, Joe and I had started a family. On top of our jobs, we had three children over a five-year period, taking up any extra time we might have used for writing letters, especially since during these same five years we moved back into the United States and then back out again, this time to Western Asia.
Once, during an emergency, we were evacuated with our two small children back to the US, due to heavy street fighting. We were instructed not to return until things quieted down. Our friend who shared the letters helped our family set up a temporary place to live. She also helped us locate blankets, pots and pans and spoons and forks to use while we waited for word that we could return.
I owe her many letters of thanks, and I am about to write them. Each time Joe and I have moved to new places we gathered more responsibilities, gained new friends and lost others. Although we had the privilege of enjoying technically challenging and very interesting jobs, we confronted complicated administrations and large inter-related bureaucracies that sometimes held projects back, messed up plans and created stress. During this period of heavy work responsibilities and young children, we wrote few personal letters. These same complicated bureaucracies gave us the power and support we needed to our family to continue our work in the area of international development, an area we both wanted to work in. I owe numerous people who worked in these administrations with me, letters of appreciation, too. I have unfinished letters to write. Letters of condolence. Letters of love. Letters of appreciation. Letters of thanks. Letters to my wonderful adult children, expressing gratitude and pride, telling them how much I love them; Letters to my grandchildren, leaving word tracks for when I am no longer here, to make them smile and trust that life is good. I owe thank you notes to people who changed my life. A letter to my husband, thanking him for all the love and affection, fun and adventure, hilarity and frustration, devotion and friendship, for his mightiest protection, biggest debates, most delicious omelettes, ever. By the way, dear, thank you as well for all those morning cups of coffee. I owe a letter to myself. It may be the most difficult one to write. I owe letters to the people I thought I hated but really didn't. Letters to people who suffered unfairly. Letters to those who reached out and received no thanks. Letters to the privileged and seemingly spoiled who would not know why I wrote, even if I did. In addition, I owe a note of appreciation to the small boy, wearing just simple cotton shorts who used a broken branch with leaves to sweep under the sacred banyan tree, making the dirt smooth; I owe a letter of affection to that little girl who told me her stories of being married at the age of twelve, and the uproarious tales of how she outwitted her husband and got to come home to her widowed mother; I will send a letter of sorrow to that dead body I saw lying in the streets waiting unceremoniously to be picked up by the early morning carts; I have written numerous letters of thanks in my head to those men holding machine guns who stopped our bus and who read all correspondence we held in our purses and backpacks and left without killing us; I owe a letter of amazement to the midwives who delivered village babies on rope-woven wooden beds with no running water and no clean towels; A letter of love to the villagers who sang all night to us while we sat together on dirt floors and listened to a tiny wind-driven accordion wailing to the moon.
It is time to write a letter to my mother to tell her she is forgiven for not noticing;
A letter to my father saying that I view him with compassion and realize it might have been worse, he could have become President; A letter to my brother, saying goodbye, sorry it did not work out; Letters to my sisters reminding them of how much I cared. A letter to my childhood dog whom I miss greatly, especially since he was my nanny. Letters to my hair dresser saying thank you for getting me out of the sixties look. Letters to the grasses and trees that welcomed me on mountain slopes and A thank you letter to near clear blue lakes and to all bright stars of the night. Letters of appreciation and awe to the unknown for all that it holds.
Thank you, my friend, for keeping those letters for fifty years and then sending them back to me as a gift. They are provoking me to write what I had forgotten to write, until now.