Well Intended / Remembering with fondness, forgetting to stay in touch
I would like to send holiday cards this year. In the past few years, it has been a tradition that I've neglected.
Last year, I took 100 pictures of my kids and dog by an icy stream. I was demanding, they were quarrelsome, and the bank was steep. Not a single image portrayed anything close to holiday cheer. Truth be told, beneath her coat, my daughter wore pajamas, my son was tired and had no desire to stand close to his sister, and I stepped on the dog's paw moments before, and she was thus wary of the endeavor. Once we gave in to the failed attempt we went up the hill to the Berkshires cottage we'd borrowed, and our angst and disagreeable expressions melted by a snug fire.
I could have tried again. Or I might have made cards without pictures. But, I let the opportunity go and neglected to send the cards I had meant to write and fill with warm wishes. My intention wasn't to impress people with my beautiful photo of familial harmony. (We are generally pretty peaceful people.) Nor did I have any great news to share. It's just a good excuse to reconnect.
Every year I realize there are more and more friends whose voices I seldom hear. Somewhere our paths have divided and the distance between us has grown. I am terrible about keeping in touch. I think of them fondly, but rarely reach out to tell them how much they have meant to me. I don't tend to go to renditions. I don't have a group of childhood friends with whom I am still deeply connected. And I am not as good as I should be about maintaining the relationships that have really mattered to me as I want to be.
In October 2001, my son was born, and I promptly sent out announcements. I had pre-selected the cards and addressed the envelopes in advance. And once they came back from the printer, I had them in the mail. A week later, a friend called. We had moved apart a year and a half prior. She was in New York, and I was here, in Connecticut. It wasn't a great distance. I might have made plans to drive to see her at any point. But, I didn't. And so the distance between us began to cement itself.
Alison and I met in the park by our homes in Massachusetts when our daughters were infants. After walking by the river together, we pushed our strollers back to my house, where I wrote her number directly in my phone book and gave her mine on a card. I felt like a bachelor courting a girl, I was so eager for her friendship. In the months that followed we took our babies on walks and to music classes, we celebrated their first birthdays and dressed them up for Halloween. We formed a little group of new moms, and together we talked through our lack of sleep and changing roles.
When she called, I was distracted. Perhaps the baby was crying, or my daughter wanted something. Maybe I was washing dishes or was on the other line. I can't recall what had me so busy. "How are you?" I asked, excited to hear her voice, but clearly distracted. "Not as good as you are," she started. I puzzled at her congratulations and asked to call her back. I neglected to phone. I thought of her late at night or while driving but never actually made the call. She was on my mind. But I didn't take the time to connect with her.
That was the year we brought our mail in through the garage fretting over anthrax. I kept a little wastebasket by the back door for correspondence I didn't recognize. Sometime after Thanksgiving, I opened a heavy envelope addressed in her hand. The photo showed Alison and her daughter, who had grown as big as my own, and her little son, whom I had not yet met. On the next page was a solitary photo of her husband with the words, "You will always be in our hearts." She had been calling to tell me her husband had a meeting at Windows on The World the morning that none of us will ever forget. Her life was changed forever.
Had she been going through her phone book as I might when sending holiday cards? Did she have to call everyone one by one? If I had been less self-absorbed could my friendship have offered her even just a little bit of warmth? I'll never know what I could have done. But, I'll never forget the call I never returned.
The people who inhabit our lives never leave us. We may not meet for lunch as we promise and intend to do. But, we don't love less. Before the year has ended, I want to reach out to those I love not so much because I hope that they have a happy holiday (though, of course I do) but to let them know that I am grateful for having the chance to share a part of our lives together.
Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.