Friday, August 15, 2008

Another writing assignment

Practice, practice, and more practice – that’s the only way to learn to write well. Thus I gave my homeschoolers another writing assignment this week. Although I won’t always write a sample essay for them, I feel that if they read an example of what I expect of them, they’ll be able to write a more meaningful essay. So I sat down last night and wrote.

ASSIGNMENT: Find an object around the house and describe the memories it triggers.

The card
I found Yuri's Christmas card buried in the pile of papers and books and old letters that are heaped on my nightstand in a precarious disarray. A pang of sadness came over me. I not only hadn’t written back, I hadn’t even found this card until summertime! I’d been off to Honduras on a mission trip when it arrived, wrapped up in my life, my dreams, my kids, my family. I’d only given Cousin Yuri a fleeting thought since I’d seen him last summer.

“I’m grateful to you for everything,” he wrote at the end of his note written on the card dated 19 December 2007. Those were his last words to me.

Oh, how I wish I’d written back.

I stared at the letter, the glittery, festive Christmas card wishing my family good health and good things for 2008. They now seemed like such empty words. If he’d known it would be his last card to me, what would he have written? Would he have bared his soul? Revealed his disappointments? Lamented his lot in life? Extolled his life and wife?

I can’t even remember when I began corresponding with Cousin Yuri, twelve years my senior. Writing letters to family in Ukraine was something my parents made me do. So from the time I was 10 or 12, I wrote to uncles and aunts whom I never met, and never will. They died long before I ever got the chance to visit Ukraine. Cousin Yuri took over correspondence from his mother, my aunt. I never met her, but on my first visit to Ukraine in 1999, he made sure I met him. I will always be grateful for the effort he made to get to know me, to welcome me into his home, his family, and his village.

Cousin Yuri was a letter-writer like no other. He didn’t write about the weather or the latest family event; he shared his thoughts, his dreams, things that could have been but never would be. Cousin Yuri was a thinker and a dreamer who revealed his inner self on the papers that flew across the Atlantic between our homes.

“I’m grateful to you for everything,” he wrote. Everything? What could he possibly be grateful for other than the monetary gifts I gave his family? Could my letters and the time I spent with him be that valuable?

I’m grateful to Yuri for over 30 years of sharing through letters.

I’m grateful that he came to meet me in Kopychyntsi in 1999 the first time I was in Ukraine, a bit overwhelmed by the extended family and the foreignness of the country that I grew up thinking of as my fatherland, but really it was a foreign land.

I’m grateful that he invited me and my children into his city home in Ivano-Frankivsk, that he invited his entire family over for a feast so they could meet me, and then he showed us around his city. And most of all, I’m grateful that he took us all to the village of Petryliv, his wife’s hometown, nestled in the hills by the Dnister River in an area so peaceful that even the dogs don’t bark at night. So far it’s my favorite place in all of Ukraine.

I’m grateful for the times we went fishing together and riding in the horse-drawn wagon during a downpour. I’m grateful that Cousin Yuri was so well-liked that villagers he knew let me jump in their wagon and collect barley with them in their fields.

I’m grateful that Cousin Yuri was so kind and so loved that the entire village of Petryliv welcomed me, accepted me, let me photograph them, let me be part of their lives.

I’m grateful that Cousin Yuri took the time to write and to let me be part of his life. Oh, I will miss him so much. That note in his familiar handwriting brought it all home when I sorted through my much-too-large pile of papers. Cousin Yuri, did I ever tell you I love you?


Cousin Yuri died suddenly of a stroke last spring while fishing, which was his favorite pastime.

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What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)