My wife has four siblings, and of the five children, four of them have the disease that led to her heart transplant, and all four of them have had a heart transplant. They are all close in a way that to be in their presence marks you as an outsider, and the joy they have in being with each other is palpable.
One sister lives in California, and one in North Carolina, and we’re in Mississippi and two of them are in Arkansas, and none of us make a lot of money and there are always medical bills and then there was a pandemic and so, in the 15 years I have been part of this family, never have all five children been in the same room together.
But this past weekend, California came to visit Arkansas, so Mississippi (that would be us) went as well, so all four transplanted siblings would be together. We stayed in a beige motel with a view of the Interstate that had hot water and granite counters but soap that did not work, and their father came down from Kansas, and together we all ate lots of food and heard stories and there was much hugging and crying.
My COVID precautions have been severe because my wife is immune-compromised (all transplant patients are – it is a feature, not a bug, of transplants). We haven’t been in public much in the last two years. We traveled 3 hours in a snowstorm to get her the first vaccine shot when it came available last winter. I went a year without eating anywhere other than my dining room, and even now, eating somewhere else is planned with great intentionality.
But as I sat in that crowded living room full of vaccinated, extremely careful people, watching my immune-compromised siblings-in-law laugh and cut up and play, these people who love each other deeply and who live in the full knowledge that their very existence is a miracle of science, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all the people who were careful, who took precautions, who did what they could to keep people like them safe and alive so that days like this could happen again.
Five Beautiful Things
Kevin Kelly is a model for me of curiosity and aging and influence. He’s currently doing a project where he makes and posts art every day on his Instagram account, and I find it fascinating because there is no theme, no common medium, nothing but a daily act of creativity. It expands my concept of art, which is probably a good thing.
Ethan Hawke, on creativity, and the partnership between artist and consumer, and playing the fool as a method of disrupting the chaos of life. I love this so much. Related: I wrote this piece on my blog last week about the partnership between writer and reader before I saw this video.
Sarah Hagale’s tiny drawings are so full of energy and joy. Like tiny little love notes. She also sells prints on her website.
Several people wrote in after last week’s letter and said my reflection reminded them of the poem Though There Are Torturers by the Irish poet Michael Coady. That’s high praise indeed, and I’m grateful for folks pointing it out. Side note: This poem is found in Oven Lane and Other Poems, which is regrettably only still in print on the Kindle. I like my Kindle, but prefer poetry on paper, so I found a copy of what I thought was the book on one of the used book sites. Sadly, it was an earlier book with a similar title that did not include the poem in question, but that was signed by the author, so I will just accept that as my gift from the serendipity gods for this week.)
Pastor T.L. Barrett & the Royal Voices of Life give an NPR Tiny Desk Concert from their church in Chicago. This is Black Gospel music, infused with Soul and Funk, and is full of life and joy, regardless of your spiritual tradition.
For 7 years I have been publishing this newsletter. I know, I can’t believe it myself. In light of that, I wanted to ask you some questions about why you subscribe, what you like and what you don’t. There are 9 questions – some are "pick one", some are fill in the blank. The answers are anonymous – I won’t know who says what, so don’t be afraid of telling the truth. If there is something you want me to know is from you, just hit reply to this email.
Thanks to everyone who filled out the reader survey last week. I’m leaving it up for two more weeks, so everyone gets a shot at filling it out. I’m already making a few changes based on reader input, however, and when it’s over, I will do a full writeup. – HH
Thank you so much for all the ways you support this project - by forwarding this letter to your friends, by talking it up on social media, by being a Patron, buying me a book or a cup of coffee, I am grateful for your support and all the ways you make this project possible. This list grows slowly, by one or two names most weeks, because someone like you forwards it to somebody else, who subscribes. And if someone did forward this to you, you can get your own subscription here.