Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
An old wooden box atop my small bureau, passed down from my parents, holds my latest reading stack, calendar, to-do list, garden maps, and the like. It also holds my incoming mail, a corner dedicated to all correspondence received and not yet responded to. Sometimes they sit for a few days, sometimes a few weeks: it depends on the sender, the urgency of their thoughts and mine, and the length of the to-do list filed alongside the stack of envelopes.
Writing letters is a conscious choice, a statement of intent and care, a mindful means of communication with friends and acquaintances. Letters, to me, are about pace, about technology, about expression: that is, a pace of communication that mirrors the care I have for the relationships I maintain through written word. Emails and phone calls are quick, and in that manner convenient. But communication and relationships – essential components of the human experience – are not things I want to shunt to the corners of my day nor hustle into a few minutes here and there. Communicating and relating are actions which flourish through precise and compassionate language, and deserve a medium that allows intentional, personally-crafted expression. Letters, I have found, achieve this wonderfully.
By extension, letters reflect the lifestyle choices I, and Ryan, have pursued. Indeed, my letters, created by the flickers of my heart and mind, firing through my fingertips to the pen and then to paper, are equally as grounded in place as I, the writer, am. It is the rare letter that does not contain clues of the season, a vignette of the window’s view, or a description of the garden or the latest project. Whatever the personal contents of a given letter, my thoughts are grounded in our homestead. As such, letters often become a means to expound upon our lifestyle, our choices, and to share our experiences and skills. Letters, for both the writer and the receiver, are a reflection on purpose, engagement, and fulfillment.
At times, the mailbox brings questions from those seeking advice or guidance. From counseling to skill-sharing to encouragement offered to strangers, I gladly write. Letters, though, are not answered lightly. Rather, they enter the conversations between Ryan and I, shape our musings, influence our language, and nuance our description of our own lives.
Ultimately, we’re figuring it all out as we go – this goes for hard skills as well as the mental, emotional, and spiritual processes of life. It is not rightness that directs us, nor a complete set of knowledge – and this I always try to emphasize. Be it individual choices or decisions as a couple, learning skills or designing the landscape, accomplishing a project or setting out on a new endeavor, it is compassion and intention that guide us. We have no answers for the unknown, and are increasingly comfortable with this. Creating the future, we reflect on the past while engaging in the present.
Through it all, it strikes me that what the world needs is not more answers, but more beauty, more love, more joy. And so we pursue this in the ways that we know best – through our hands and skillful labor, with attention and observation, compassion, and living with grace in place of fear. For me, letters are my art that do just that.
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