The days have dwindled down ‘to a precious few.’ Oh, if only I could find the words to express what I’m feeling, to put into sentences what I’m thinking, to tell you how much you have meant to me, what gifts you have given, how fortunate and grateful I feel.
Alas, it’s not possible. So I return to the poets – to Whitman, for example, who said, “I swear I see what is better than to tell the best, it is always to leave the best untold. When I undertake to tell the best, I find I cannot. My tongue is ineffectual on its pivots, my breath will not be obedient to its organs, I become a dumb man.”
This is just one of 600-plus letters in which I’ve addressed you as friend, and in which I’ve tried my best to share my thoughts, or as Emerson put it. “…to deal out my life, passed through the fire of thought.”
I told you about my hopes for the ministry we launched together on April 1, 1984, and I acknowledged the anxiety I felt at the time – and hope trumped anxiety. In this little letter I told you about a sleepless night as I contemplated taking on a mortage of $200,000 to buy a house in Westport; shared the joy of officiating at my daughter Susan’s wedding; the deep pain of my father’s death; the inner turmoil of divorcing after thirty-three years of marriage; the joy of finding a new life partner eighteen years ago; the grief following my mother’s death; the shock of my nephew’s death in a car accident and my niece’s death from MS; the joy of officiating at my son Jonathan’s marriage; the dismay of my Parkinson’s diagnosis; the plan, five years ago, to retire from active ministry in 2013.
T. S. Eliot has Prufrock say: “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.” Clearly I have ‘measured out my life’ for the past twenty-nine years in this letter, even as I understand Prufrock’s further saying, “It is impossible to say just what I mean, but if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen…would it have been worthwhile…”
Though I’ve shared a great deal, I have also been circumspect, setting limits that respect the privacy of the people closest to me. Sometimes I may have said a little too much – I know that because they told me so. Like the boulders that fall on each side of the wall, we walked the line and made repairs: ‘to each the boulders that have fallen to each,’ knowing that ‘good fences make good neighbors.’
I was disappointed when my letter in Soundings was sent electronically to most members, even as I accepted the good reasons for that decision. The letter-in-the-hand was, in part, a resistance to the changes in correspondence that began long before the computer-generated changes. My letter has been a way of encouraging you to take pen in hand and compose a personal message to a dear friend, inserting it into an envelope on which you have written a name and address – the joy of receiving such a gem in the mail has been all-but-lost.
We don’t have ‘miles to go,’ but we have at least a few more steps to take together before the trail comes it its end. It’s been a wonder-filled journey, so far. I’ll savor the steps ahead as we prepare to offer precious parting expressions of appreciation. See you soon.