In the mail the other day, I received the most amazing document. It was a letter from my 20-year-old daughter.
One and a half pages, handwritten, single-spaced on notebook paper; the letter was mailed from Maine, where Anna is working as a summer camp counselor.
As I read Anna’s letter, I was struck by how present she was to me through it. Indeed, it was almost as if I was privy to Anna’s thoughts and feelings in a way I don’t often experience even in her company.
Like most of us these days, Anna doesn’t write letters. And like most young adults her age, she texts as much (or more) than she talks. However, a camp rule prevents the use of cell phones most of the time, so she has taken to writing letters.
Rarely has a rule had such a delightful effect. Reading Anna’s letter (more than once) has given me a better understanding of her daily life while separated from me.
I’m also more aware of the sentiments she may not so easily express were we together. While I have missed talking with her and being in her presence, our relationship has blossomed in another form as we cope with the distance and communication challenges her summer job presents.
As I have shared in this column before, my son is currently deployed in Afghanistan. In some ways, he seems easier to contact than Anna because he can use technology to communicate.
The distance between us, while bridged by the Internet, seems vaster than any I have ever experienced with a loved one.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like for those who suffered from separation during previous wars, when communication took days, even weeks.
Receiving an e-mail or a phone call from Jimmy, especially hearing his voice, is an oasis in the desert of time and space. It carries me through until the next contact.
Another way I feel close to Jimmy is by remembering. I was blessed to have spent more than a week with him before he deployed. Those days were precious at the time, and they are precious in memory.
Jimmy likes country music, and I’ve taken to listening to it all the time in my car, so that when I hear a song I know he likes, I feel bound to him. Engraved in my memory is our moment of goodbye the night he left for Afghanistan.
Every so often, I pack homemade baked goods in a box and ship it to him.
While it takes at least a week for the box to arrive, Jimmy says the baked goods are still tasty. Baking cookies, brownies, and banana bread for him and his unit makes me feel as if I am offering something of myself, no matter how small, in gratitude for their sacrifices.
Reflecting on how I’ve been separated from my children and how we are coping with that separation prompts me to think about our Eucharistic celebration. At Mass, we hear the Word of God proclaimed, and we encounter Christ in the stories of our salvation.
By singing together hymns of praise, we are bound to one another in communal worship. We offer gifts of bread and wine, and God transforms those gifts into the body and blood of His son. Christ shares himself with us by coming to us intimately, as nourishment.
The gifts we bring to the altar are returned to us, broken and blessed. We experience his presence in our midst. We remember.
Our experience of being separated from those we love, whether through death or physical separation, is transformed by the knowledge that Christ once and for all bridged that distance of time and space. Death and sorrow have been conquered.
We wait in joyful hope for the reunion we have been promised.
MARY HOOD HART lives in Ocean Isle, N.C.