Tuesday
Jul262011

« Letter to Katie »

Katie,

This is your uncle Ed. I wrote a similar but far shorter letter to Cameron a couple years back. With the passing of a couple more years, I thought maybe I’d address the same general message to you but with another open approach. Now, I ordinarily don’t write young teen girls letters of this sort. But we are family and nothing can erase that. And I have to focus my thoughts quite carefully because I know that this will be scrutinized and criticized if it is read by anyone else. That is the pattern. I know it well. I have been on both sides of that kind of scrutiny. To avoid any such commentary that I have some agenda, I am posting this message to my website, where it can be seen publicly, and if need be, commented upon. I don’t have anything to hide here. I am going to reference earlier times but I plan to address you as an intelligent, articulate, compassionate young person moving toward adulthood.

I intend this for your eyes only, but I sort of anticipate that that won't be the case. I sincerely hope you’ll read it and try to understand where I’m coming from, and most of all to trust it comes from a genuine place in me, okay? Ultimately, this message is for you and you alone. If you do choose to show it to anyone, please do so after you have had a chance to understand what I am saying. That said, I guess I hope it will even reach you, and that I won’t be blocked on Facebook. Trust me, I hate doing things this way. But the message is more important than the family politics.

I only want to be clear with a central point that I don't know if I can make with others in the family. Trust me, I have tried to seek relationship with people that we both are related to. So far, it has not worked out. But I retain a glimmer of faith, even against the odds.

In 2000, at Thanksgiving time, I was reunited with the family for the third time. That is when I met you for first time. You were just shy of four years old then. I was at a time when I wanted to start a process of healing my life after plenty of hurt. When I first got in touch with your mom just a week before Thanksgiving, that was the first I heard of you. When I did meet you, and got to spend time with you on the big day, something in my chilled heart started to melt at the prospect of being an uncle to you, maybe in a way that I wasn’t able to be for Danny and Joey before you, or even Cameron. I saw new promise to be someone else, to think of someone else. I don’t know how that sounds to a person of your age, but at the age of 27, I was just beginning to think that it was my time to step into some new shoes for what was starting to seem a new period in life.

Let me be clear. There are books to read. There are lectures and sermons and advertisements that tell people what they can do to be better people who are better liked, more successful, richer, and all that. But none of that is what reached into my heart that cold gray November day. Spending a holiday with you did what nothing else did. We watched a movie. Played around. Went for a walk around the block. It wasn’t much at all. But it was something to start a long process of moving toward another kind of life that I needed to live. I don’t expect you to remember it. Your experience and mine were vastly different anyway. I am not even asking for another such experience, though I would welcome a chance to be in normal relations with you and the others. But again, this is about you and it is about me. What passed between you and me that day was just that you gave me a gift that was without foreknowledge, without discussion, without strings. It was only you being you, and me receiving that almost as if it were water after a long walk in the desert. Some call divine grace “unmerited favor.” It seems as good a way to describe my experience that weekend. At the time, I don’t know what qualified me to get that glimmer of optimism, meaning, hope. The fact is, nothing qualified me. Such is grace.

In this case, this wasn’t a matter of either of us living up to anything. Moments like these happen all the time but not everyone is ready to receive them, and if they are, it is still another stage to actually do something in response. For that moment, I was somehow open to it. For my part, I was struck with a new feeling that for once, life was not about me. I started finding my thoughts leading to what I could do for you and the others. For a while, I was advocating preserving a piano that Sofia (I hardly ever saw grandma’s name spelled out, maybe I got it wrong) had, just in case it might do you or anyone else some good.

A letter like this comes out of the blue. I know that. In other places and times, I’ve had similar letters come out of nowhere. It happens because life doesn’t fit into the containers people like to think it fits into. It is messy. Feelings are notoriously hard to settle down. The heart is an odd thing. It morphs, changes allegiances, develops. It is full of passion for some things and cold to others. My own mom might still tell stories about her driving past my house in San Diego, only to sob like all the painful separation stuff of old was happening at that moment. I never knew of these drive-bys until long after the fact. I think it is safe to say that there is too much pain for all involved. Not everything was painful though…

Your mom probably won’t tell you this but upon the few reunions we’ve had, she’s been quite excited to have me in the picture for a while. I have letters that clearly show this. Letters at the age of 8-9 that were covered with messages of love, hearts, and all that. A letter at the age of 16 suggested we go to her prom together (getting past the brother/sister thing on account of no one really knowing who I was). Some might think that odd. I did too, but was just happy to have my little sister back after some years of not being in each other’s lives. She’s a good person inside. I know it. I met that in her during less complicated times. I mean her no ill will. I never meant to hurt her, though apparently I have. I don’t know what, if anything, will put any of that straight. Less and less do I consider it my work to do. That’s God’s work, if it is going to happen at all. But again, I am addressing you now.

A fervent wish I have is that from your generation onward, things can be different. It was the wish I had after that Thanksgiving of 2000 started to sink in. It still is my wish. I still wish there was a simpler way (and frankly, less sneaky) to openly be in relationship. I don’t know if anyone else will listen or believe me when I do say that the distance I feel is terribly hard to cope with. You at least have a blank slate, and it is that clearer take on life I’d like to look at for a moment.

I know it’s a few years before you’re totally free to make decisions on your behalf. It’s too early to decide who to befriend without parental review and input, and at what price to other relationships in your life. I totally realize that my name is toxic in your setting—with others. But I don’t want for that to be your automatic and default position, and that is why I am writing this.

While in my high school years, I spent years writing in secret to my step mom Eda. We used my pastor’s house or the church as a go-between for the letters. It was because she was a vital person in my life up till about the age of 10 and took an interest in my well being. Once I turned 18 and she returned from Mexico, we reunited and have typically had an in-person relationship. She writes letters just the same as before, but above ground. Just to check in on me and the life I lead. It has been almost 20 years since we reunited in person.

In a similar way, I am daring to write to you for the same reasons. Of course I invite your response. I invite it this week. Next year. Or if it takes till you’re 18 and free to do as you please, then so be it. Maybe longer. The point is that no one around you is prepared to tell you who I am, or what my interests are. What they can tell you is their perspective on my actions from times that were inherently awkward times (reunited with long lost family, facing deaths of family members, new girlfriends, depression, and so on). I won’t say their understanding of things is wrong. It is just woefully incomplete. If you are a person who fancies herself free of mind and heart, the door is open to one day seek me out and find out for yourself. Same for Cameron and the others, if so inclined. Maybe right now doesn’t make any sense or will be outright forbidden. Maybe right now it isn’t welcome of me to make the offer. It’s on your time if you want to pick up the threads and make something of this.

I suppose I want to run down a few things you almost certainly don’t know about me or the world I live in.

First off, my name, Edward, from the Old English means “wealthy (Ed) guardian (ward).” The name “Lucas” fairly certainly is a nod to St. Luke, or more simply, the writer of the Gospel of Luke—quite an excellent book of the Bible, and coincidentally my favorite of the Gospels. Lucas has been shaped by Greek, Spanish, English, and other European cultures and appears in various spellings, but all nations having a traditional tie to Christianity, it most clearly is rooted in “St. Luke.” As far as the wealthy goes, I don’t feel I’ve ever been wealthy in monetary terms. I might have had some money courtesy of family members here (leaving me modest inheritances) but really, I am not rich by any stretch. I am actually not working now. I am a bit more irresponsible than it takes to get rich. But maybe the guardian part applies in some way. But not a guardian with a weapon, stationed outside some place of perceived importance. If anything, I am a guardian of a kind of consciousness, of feelings, of narratives/stories. Writing a letter like this is my guardianship of a kind of inner flame that I know I can’t let go out. This flame has the power to burn or the power to warm. I guess I doggedly believe I can keep at the right distance to remain warm, not flame broiled!

My dog, Buber, is named after a philosopher, Martin Buber, who perhaps is best known by his book I and Thou. I rather pretentiously read it when I was 11th grade but didn’t really get it until I reread it with almost the same group at the age of 31 when it was something that helped articulate a life I already led. The basics of I and Thou is that the purest relationship happens between two beings with no foresight, no planning, and often only a flash of awareness. You might consider it a shot of total divine grace when two beings meet at the level Martin Buber was talking about. My dog is a patient dog with big eyes and a look that just melts the heart. He likes sitting. He has an intense gaze that is spellbinding if you meet it unsuspecting. Animals have a lot to teach us about our inner lives.

My wife Kelli and I have been married for nearly seven years. We have dated since the start of 2002. We met as teens in church youth group in 1990—21 years ago next month. Going back a bit further, her mom says we were in the Sunday School together as kids and that she was my teacher. Even I don’t remember that, though there are pictures to prove it. Kelli and I were married in the same church we attended at various times in life. Once upon a time my own parents were married there and I was baptized there. I was the first 16 year old elected to the board of deacons there and had a lot of great times there when I was just a little older than you. Most recently, Kelli was ordained to the ministry (ceremony held at the same church) after years of slogging it out at school, internships, and all that professional preparation. Now she is Rev. Kelli, and I am perfectly proud of her. She works as a hospice chaplain, but is aiming to be a pastor at a church. But pastor or not, she has been my angel by my side for a lot of years, and is as clear a sign of divine grace as I know. Again, nothing I did qualified me for her sticking by me. Grace, my dear. Grace.

I have since left that church but Kelli retains her membership there. My new church since 2008 has been a great place to grow and contribute. I was on the board of Christian Education for a couple years. I facilitate a young adults group (20-35) and sometimes directly teach bits of it, incorporating bible study when useful, but whatever else is handy for the cause. Other things include house parties here and elsewhere. I participated in a spiritual development group for two years.

Realizing that church can be valuable but not the last word in pursuing spiritual development, last year I attended an intensive ritual week for male initiation. Held in an utterly amazing area in Arizona, the great patterns of life and death were essentially written onto my heart in an indelible way. I wholeheartedly recommend such a thing for my nephews and brothers in their formation as complete men. A related opportunity for being in nature and having an ear open for the divine calling came this year when I went to New Mexico to be on a sheep ranch for a couple weeks, among other places in the state that I was interested in, all of which helped reiterate some great lessons in life in an unforgettable way that can only be lived, not really discussed.

My father and I have not talked in close to five years. I know that he is quite the divisive figure at your households, but I too am hurt by him and find his methods quite unbearable and after a huge amount of hard times with him finally had to peel away to preserve myself and move on. I don’t know if anyone will ever hear that with the fullness of heart that I intend, but that is the case. It puts me and my sisters and mother a little closer together than I think they realize. Kelli and I keep our distance but do concern ourselves with his human wellbeing. I think of him as a hurt person who never learned to do anything with his pain. It clearly does a lot of damage—to others, and to himself.

When I am not sneaking messages to you or other family members via the social media sites, I do productive work for an organization dedicated to helping people practice better economic choices with peaceful sustainability in mind. I do all the web work, record and post the podcasts and periodically write material myself. Another site I am shepherding is one for Kelli and some clergywomen buddies to be a community and educational resource. My own site is intensely personal and has been getting a lot of input lately based on my personal archive which I guess I serve as the guardian for. It is from some of this material that my feeling stirred to write this letter.

One thing that I have to note is that in 1994 my mom wrote me a letter that suggested I go to school to learn journalism, or photojournalism. She thought my writing was good enough to suggest I follow it. That letter, in its simplicity, is one of the purest forms of encouragement from her that I have to point to. It does not contain any of the conflict of other notes or talks. I found it again recently (though I always knew about it), and realized that my work with websites (particularly my own) was my own way of following up on that lead. I still shoot pictures. I write better. I tell a story. Journalism is a form of guardianship, after all. It guards the truth as one knows it.

I do not have a degree but I have attended a number of classes. Most have been basic college things but things that I have a particular interest in: art, music, history, humanities, psychology. For the last several years, despite being interested in working on my degree, I decided it was a better plan to support Kelli through seminary, which took over three years, but her longer education plan has taken about six. I do lament not having the focus to finish a degree in a far more reasonable time, but I have always sought to learn somehow. These days I have been far more moved to work on the part of me that no school can educate: my soul. And in that, everything is my teacher. The success or failure of this letter has the power to teach me. So I can dare to do this.

Katie, my niece, I only hope I can bend your ear toward me and whatever yet-unknown contributions I could make to your life. I know I can’t do it alone. Not by charm. Not by persuasion. Not by much of anything, really. I can really only play so that the ball gets to your court—all I can do it pitch to you. (I suppose I should use softball terms here!) I guess I only hope that you won’t shut me out. Not as an uncle, not as a man, not as a human. I’ve worked on the latter two: trying to learn something about being a man, and especially about being a human. The fact of the matter is that if I am to be an uncle, it will be possible by the interaction with you and your cousins.

I won’t kid you. I live a bit far away in San Diego. I’m not in the neighborhood but I’m still a couple hours away which does constitute a day trip. We don’t really have much in common in terms of interests. I clearly am at a disadvantage when it comes to knowing what you’ve been up to. It looks like you’re doing well in softball and dancing. Probably better than I did in drumming as a kid, and clearly better than I did in my short two game soccer career at the age of eight! Sports aren’t my thing. Looking at life is. Examining relationships, community, love, pain, and all that are what I do. Maybe I’ve been called to it. Maybe I’ve clamored for it. Maybe I’ve been thrust there against my own will. Every one of us eventually gets older and eventually wants to do our part to light the way for the next person who might come stumbling by in the dark of life.

I only want you to know that I write this from a place of vulnerability, and any future letters of this sort will come from that same place. I perfectly well know that rejection and indifference or outright hostility greet my attempts at relationship. I can only tell you this is quite saddening, and does none of us any good. But the thing is, none of us are qualified to be family. We just are family. I know it hasn’t worked out with everyone else. That is why I am turning to you, as one human, one individual to another, to weigh whether that is really the way to go. From my viewpoint, it is a failure. A sad failure. But I was 14 once and people promised me that every decision could be made for the better or for the worse. History between you and me is quite minimal. It could be considered flimsy, or wide open for development. I am just extending a hand, advocating for the latter option.

You can see that this is a big letter. I only write big letters to people I care about. The rest of the world has Twitter to say their small ideas in small ways. I use Twitter too, but never to say anything of lasting value. Since I have tended to move house in recent years, I offer my church as a permanent address where you can ultimately reach me if all else fails. I hope anyone will see that I am not trying to mask my message behind any layers. If people must write their comments of criticism or praise, I welcome them to write to my pastor, Rev. Scott Landis. The church has been there 100 years this fall. I expect they’ll be there when you write.

I just want you to know…

Love,

uncle ed

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