Letters from an unlikely friendship
Who writes them anymore? We do!
This is Part 1 of a 4-part letter exchange between two writers from two different worlds and generations but who found a kindred spirit.
Although we’ve never met in person, because we’re separated by the Atlantic Ocean and North America, I, Reena, an essayist, poet and short story writer living in Northern California, and Samuèl, an essayist and novelist living in Paris, have developed an unexpected friendship via this letter exchange about mortality, love, and philosophy. We decided to share this letter exchange because we both enjoyed it so much. Besides, a writer's life inherently involves a lot of ‘aloneness’ - note how I don’t say loneliness - and our words become both the medium and the message, to borrow a phrase, by which we seek to uncover our truths. As you’ll see we’re both trying to make sense of our lives/stages as well as our creative quests via this short exchange. Hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it.
It all started later last year when Samuél - who writes this super cool blog -
asked me: “I for one would love to hear about what’s happening in your life and how you’re digesting it all via writing…” This was my response.
Links to the letters will be updated as they are published: Letter 1 | Letter 2 | Letter 3 | Letter 4
You asked how I’m doing and how it's been ... life stuff. Actually a LOT has happened.
It has been a strange year, this 2022. One of a deep grief and a multitude of celebrations. Already 2021 had been a hard one, and yet I thought I was on a good path to making peace with it after having lost my father at the end of 2020. Besides, I was trying to show up for my mother, keeping my own grief in check when I saw her for obvious reasons. But then 2022 decided to take first place in dealing blows, and making me think twice about my assumptions, illusions and things I took for granted. All of which I carried but only learned of their existence upon their shattering.
The day before Mother’s day in May I lost my mother. The irony of that kept pounding down on me as the day’s wishes appeared in every medium and channel by which I connect with the world. The restlessness from the shock and grief of the visceral loss runs tears in and through me even now. Both parents gone in less than 18 months! Just like that.
Friends have told me to be kind to myself and give it at least a year or two. Loss of a parent is fundamental. I wrote about it here when I said….
It’s a curious apprehension because I have lived independently of them since I left for college nearly four decades ago. And I’ve lived in a different country for most of that independent life. Yet there’s a feeling of having lost my home in India, the cover of my elders, that generation, that duo that somehow warded off my troubles, who were forever concerned with my happiness no matter how old I got, that kept a home where I could always return without grudge or grievance, that loved me unconditionally like very few can or ever will.
Yes, I had a home, a forever home in India, I had told myself without realizing what I was foolishly counting on, and that home is lost forever. Lost to me and in that loss India - the country of my birth and much shaping - is lost too. Yeah maybe one day I will travel through it like a tourist and surely I will visit sometimes to see others I love, but I will now be as an outsider who was once from there. I have to find acceptance somehow.
Yet this 2022 was also the year of weddings, and new beginnings. In June—only about six weeks after losing my mother—came the first of a whole season of weddings. Cycle of life!
All this when I wanted to simply hide, grieve and see no one. But sometimes life brings pain along with accompanying analgesics. The weddings meant I had to show up with a smile and love and blessings for those starting out their lives. Here’s what I wrote on Instagram for one that I attended in August:
…I’m traveling on your birthday to celebrate the wedding of one of my dearest friend’s son who’s a dear nephew to me. So I see the cycle of life. We make way for new lives and loves and in that unending, and continual chain find an acceptance and our peace. Our redemption is eventually in deeply feeling an overwhelming gratitude for the love that came our way.
So as I give my best wishes and blessings to the newlyweds, my hope for them is that they’ll find the kind of love and home I did in this universe; for greater blessings I couldn’t even dream of…
Thank you mom for all your love and light and humor and courage and persistence… and your voice that lives on in me and will guide me to the end of my own days…
This immutable, inexorable cycle of life is exactly what my mother would have asked me to focus on. “Get on with it.” she’d say, “Death is a part of life and you’re a brave girl!”
I am trying to listen to her.
Any of this make sense? I know we’re in such different phases of life, yet we can both see what's been and what's coming and the cycles live on. I talk to my daughter about some of this but she's still young.
What do you think?
So moving. As I've learned painfully, our western culture knows way too little about how to talk about death and, particularly in my case, about my son who died in 2017. Thank you, Reena.
Hi Reena, beautiful letter. I’m estranged from both my parents -- for very different reasons -- so I often wonder how I’ll feel when they die. I appreciate your thought provoking words.
I have two kids now and talked with my daughter about the cycle of life here (in my typically sarcastic way): https://open.substack.com/pub/agowani/p/my-daughter-and-i-had-the-talk-about-93d
You might enjoy it.