Saturday, September 17, 2011

An Epistolary Request

Dearest Nobody in Particular,

            If you’ve been reading these letters for a while, you know how I feel about life—it’s amazing. Every day after waking, I begin with my gratitude mantra and am so thankful to engage in this miraculous experience once again. As incredible as all of this beauty may be, we all know that life is also precarious. This is precisely the reason I began cultivating this disposition toward life and the world a few years ago, because we have no guarantee of how much time we have. While it may seem rather macabre to reflect on our mortality in this way, it is freeing in the sense that by grappling and facing our finitude we learn to revel in the present moment more and more. We learn to love life in its entirety. Yes, there will be both good and bad times, but I personally believe we need to experience the entire emotional spectrum in order to be fully human. But it is also how we put life’s challenges into perspective that gives us the humility to understand our place in this world, grow as a person from these setbacks, and carry on in the aftermath of tragedy.

            This past week I lost my maternal grandmother; “Mémère” as our French-Canadian side of the family called her. It was tough to keep it together at school for the two days before I left. I chose not to tell my students because I didn’t want them to be distracted, but I think some of them could tell that I wasn’t quite right even though I did my best to conceal the sadness that weighed heavily upon my heart. On Thursday after school, I penned a rather long request on my whiteboard to fulfill as an assignment on Friday while I was away in Rhode Island at the funeral. As you know by now, NIP, I am a fan of letters. In our hurried lifestyle of incessant information and terse communication, I lament that fact that this form of dialogue has been lost. Though I try to “tweet” at least a small positive statement each day, it is difficult to convey something meaningful through such a medium. Letters, however, allow us to express ourselves deeply and in a way that is personal and heartfelt, which is why I left my students an assignment to write an important missive.

            While I set no specific parameters on length, I did narrow their focus by asking the students to write to one person. And not just any one person, a family member. As I mentioned in my Mémère’s eulogy, the most sacred aspects of life for me are family and love, which are obviously complementary. My grandmother and her home were a safe haven for me during many tumultuous times, especially in childhood. She was an archetypal grandmother, a nurturing soul who was the embodiment of love. She meant a great deal to me and I will miss her always, so the opportunity to write and read the eulogy was not only an honor but a personal goodbye from me to her in some sense. When I asked my students to write a letter to a family member, then, I had many of these ideas in mind. Life is sacred yet ephemeral. I told my students that they should not just write a letter to a family member, but one with whom they are close but perhaps don’t often have the chance to see or speak with. Additionally I asked each of them to not only tell this person how much s/he means to him or her, but to express how the letter recipient had impacted the student’s life in a positive way. The last part of the request involved the students actually mailing the letter the old fashioned way to the family member they had chosen. Even if it were addressed to a parent (or parents), I stipulated that they must acquire postage and drop it in the mail. It seems like the only mail I get nowadays is junk mail and bills, so to be greeted by a heartfelt letter with a full expression of gratitude for that person’s guidance, wisdom and love would be something special for the recipient. Plus, it is better than simply saying it to someone as that person can keep the letter if s/he so desired.

            So now it’s your turn, NIP. I am passing along this small epistolary request to you. Who is it in your life that deserves a letter? The people who come to mind will undoubtedly be older than you and come from a generation that remembers and appreciates letters. To receive something like that unexpectedly in the mail would not only brighten his/her day, but give that person a treasured keepsake as well. And you don’t necessarily have to stop at just one letter. If there are several people with whom you need to communicate, take the time to pen notes to all of them. We never know how long these people will be in our lives, so don’t let this opportunity pass by you and your loved one. Think about how the person in question made a difference in your life and thank him or her for it. Your gratitude and love may even surprise someone who is in need of an emotional pick-me-up and make a larger impact than you can imagine. As I told my students on my whiteboard, I have no way of checking on them to see if they fulfilled my request—just as I have no idea of how many people may read this letter and not bother. But I urge anyone who is reading this now, take the time to tell someone not only how much you love that person but why you do. As unpredictable as life can be, you never know when this opportunity will have passed you by until it is too late. Please fulfill this request, NIP; perhaps that person will do it for someone else in turn.

Keep expressing your love, NIP…

- Ryan

P.S. – If any of the Ward family members read this, I would just like to thank each and every one of you for the opportunity you gave me this Friday. Mémère meant a great deal to us all, and I know we shall treasure her memory forever. As I told Mémère in a letter when Rose passed away, by keeping our memories alive in our hearts, the loved ones who pass on before us will forever remain alive and, in some sense, immortal.


  1. great post.

  2. Thanks, Justin. I'm glad you liked the post. I liked the song/video a lot.

  3. My condolences about your grandmother- I know first-hand how terrible the death of a loved one can be. I hope that everyone mails their letter- it would be wonderful if something good could result from so somber a thing.

  4. Ryan, you are one of the greatest gifts that Memere was ever given. You are an amazing person and she was so incredibly proud of you. I will write a letter..maybe more than one. And I will mail them. I love you for what you did for us all in speaking at her funeral..she deserved such a wonderful tribute.
    Cant wait to see you in November. With much love
    from Auntie Christine xoxo

  5. Ryan, or H,

    I'm really not sure what I call you now? I am very sorry for your loss. I'm sorry that I didn't know about this when we talked recently. I feel incredibly selfish. Death is a difficult subject and is hard to think about. But, I'm sure that you Memere was and is incredibly proud of the man that you are. I know that many people look up to you and see what an inspiration you are. I know in my own life, you are one person who will always stand out as someone who had a profound impact on my adolescence. And to be truthful, my adulthood. A few people came to mind when I was reading this post, and I will be sending letters. :) I hope that you are well. It kind of feels strange to not be as close with you as I once was. I really hope that I see you sometime and we can catch up. I have a deep and profound belief that Heavenly Father is aware of each of us. And even though death is an inevitable fate for each of us, it is not the end. I thank you for your impact on me. I wish you the best in all that you do. I'm sure we'll talk soon. Thank you for everything!


  6. Oh H,
    Breathtaking.I feel dumb writing this so late, but I know you won't be calloused to this misfortune. But just remember, nothing will be able to disconnect you from those memories. Just recently, I read an essay I wrote in the 5th grade about my granny and how she passed.But I keep her with me. In some way she touched my heart, and left her soul there. I just really wish it were different, that I could have her back as well just to kiss her or to tell her that I love her just once more. I truly and sincerely know how it feels. And I wish you the very best in keeping her with you wherever you go.She still loves you and I am convinced by how you are, that her love still lives. And God will remind you of that, with every breath...