Sunday Letters
30 April 2000

Dear Friend,

. . . Does your attitude towards the things you want to do change frequently? Take this letter for example. A week ago I looked forward to writing. There were lots of things I wanted to tell you and ask about. Then, Sunday morning, when I stopped looking forward to writing and actually started, my eagerness drained away. What I had thought of as a pleasure became a task and not a welcome one. I found other things to do. By evening I was still finding other things to do. Now it’s Monday morning.
. . . Good morning! How are you doing? If you’re like me you start off the day full of ideas of what you might do. By day’s end a third of them might have been done. If you’re like me, that’s doing good and you go to bed satisfied. Or, if you’re like me, some nights you go to bed depressed, feeling lost, praying to God for patience and faith. Usually this change in attitude has little to do with observable facts. We ignore facts, accept them, are troubled by them, find joy in them and give unfettered thanks. As a guy, this is a little difficult to admit. Can someone call himself a man whose attitudes frequently change?
. . . I was depressed most of yesterday. For one thing my wife was eagerly looking at houses on the market. I didn’t think we could look until we sold our property in Texas. I was also depressed about selling that property. It’s our home, or was. It’s hard to give up, even at a phenomenal price. I was also depressed about work. After two months, some days I am able to do a good job. But the job ends in four months. What then? Something totally different? Lumberjacking? And then, by day’s end, this letter was still unwritten.
. . . That should have depressed me even more but it didn’t. Instead the thought struck me that these letters are good exercises in humility. Usually they are exercises in grandiosity. I work to make them funny, engaging, and full of wisdom. Maybe, I think, I’ll get really serious about them, get them syndicated, make them a weekly column in some on-line magazine, publish them in a book. Some of you have even encouraged these fantasies. But I find such grand schemes debilitating. I want writing them to be a joy, not drudgery. How is that done if not with humility?
. . . Saturday we had a pleasant, sunny day at Longwood Gardens. It was my first visit. I bought a laminated card with my picture on it that says I’m a frequent visitor. Money can buy such things. If you’re reading this letter on my website, the photo at the top is from that visit.
. . . Yesterday was again sunny, so Barbara and I went out again, even if we were unhappy how unsettled we are. The Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts was sponsoring a tour of homes. Did this make us more depressed? Visiting homes of people long-settled may not be the best thing to do when you’re feeling unsettled. Then again, it reminds you that it is possible to be settled.
.photo of Ms. Sundin . . We visited the house and studio of Adelaide Toombs Sundin. She seemed ancient to me and quite content. Her house was charming, as was she. Her art is making bas relief porcelain portraits, mostly of children for parents. If you’re reading this letter on my website, you see her photo. I get so quickly bored. I admire people like this woman who are able to do the same thing for decades and still find it rewarding.
. . . We visited the studio of Anna B. McCoy, one of the Wyeth family. A neighbor of ours runs a gallery that displays N.C. Wyeth’s work, Anna’s work, and the work of Anna’s father, John W. McCoy, who died the same year my father died. John’s wife, Anna’s mother, is still alive and full of mischief. I didn’t get her name but, for some reason (perhaps because I look like Cary Grant), she latched onto me and decided I needed to meet her artist daughter. Her daughter was busy talking to the ex-governor of the State of Delaware. Or was he ex-governor of Pennsylvania? In any case, Anna’s mother started tapping Anna on the shoulder, then simply grabbed her from behind and turned her around to greet me. I tried to put a stop to this nonsense, but my mute protests went ignored. So I met Anna, who had never heard of Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion. I wasn’t surprised. I’ll have to send her a copy.
. . . One thing I liked about Anna was that she had built a house close to her mom. (I’d do that, too, if my mom would move to the Brandywine Valley.) Another reason I liked her was that the house and studio she built look like they are two-hundred years old. They fit into the landscape perfectly. They aren’t like the imitation French chateaus erected in Delaware and Pennsylvania by tasteless developers and eagerly purchased by the aesthetically-challenged.
. . . Thank God I don’t suffer such handicaps. Thank God for making me humble and shepherding me away from such ego traps as large, flashy homes and -- in these letters --from self-indulgent putrid purple pontificating prose, from needless alliteration, and from sentences which seem to go on and on without stopping yet say very little as though the pleasure of putting down words had nothing to do with keeping the reader’s attention or touching the heart.
. . . With that said, I’ll end this letter that has so pleasantly diverted you. Or has it? Usually I’d worry about that. But, I’ve decided to make these letters an exercise in humility. I don’t need to be perfect and neither do they. Remember, you can unsubscribe at any time. If you do, my ego will be crushed, squeezed into a tiny ball like a sponge in a tight fist. That’s OK. That dries it out. Then it expands, waiting to absorb whatever it’s soaked in next.

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"Middle age is when a man is warned to slow down by a doctor instead of a policeman." -- Sidney Brody