My dad made me do it. My mom had moved across the country and I was to write a letter to her each Sunday. At six years old with bright, masterfully sharpened yellow #2 pencils and lined notebook paper ripped from the spiral I began writing. We’d sit in the dining room and labor for what felt like hours to get a paragraph done. I could hear Charlie playing out front patiently waiting for me to join him. I hated every second of it.
My mom’s letters back to me were my first memory of words and how they connect me to something greater, how they have the ability to transport me anywhere. As a kid whose mom was gone, I cherished those letters more than anything I’ve ever had since. She would write them in extraordinary detail, giving me scenes from her life and inviting me to be with her in this special way. I taped the letters to my walls in my bedroom and would lay in bed and read them over and over again. Over the years I would put up new ones and take down the old ones and I would fold them up and keep them in this little wooden box with a lock. I hid the key for the box to keep them safe because by then in addition to her letters I was reading the wonderful adventures of The Hardy Boys and the Box Car kids and imagining all sorts of things might happen in our little town that would require lock and key.
My dad didn’t have a lot of rules but I did have to read for 30 minutes every single night before bed. I don’t remember once an exception. Unlike those letters, I don’t remember hating this.. before I could read he read to me for that half hour and then when I could read he’d patiently sit with me as I stumbled through new words. We had a TV somewhere in the house but thankfully the vibe, curiosity and personality of the University of Wisconsin was far more omnipresent throughout my childhood than the boobtube. With my dad “Dr. Lewke” teaching Anatomy and Physiology and my mom the director of admissions and our home 6 houses away from campus our house was filled with a post Vietnam intellectual artsy vibe with characters from everywhere showing up and fueling a family culture of learning, growth, questioning and exploration.
I had no idea how grand this was.
The love of words. To read and to write. My parents gave me a gift I can’t trade. It’s the ultimate spiritual practice and the only way I know to fulfill the last, the thirty seventh practice of the Bodhisattva. This final practice is the only reason I write every day. Let’s all join hands and practice this way.
The 37 Practices of aBodhisattva – #37
To dispel the suffering of beings without limit,
With wisdom freed from the three spheres
Direct all the goodness generated by these efforts
To awakening — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.