Sarah Bray Suggests for Valentine’s Day, I Should Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

Borrowed from Sharon Bray,
Writing Through Cancer


“Breathe in,” my yoga teacher spoke softly as she led us through a closing meditation. “Fill yourself with gratitude,” she said.

I inhaled, filling my lungs with air, and then exhaled slowly, trying to clear my mind–a perpetually challenging task. “Gratitude.” I silently repeated the word to myself on each inhale, until it seemed I had actually filled my body, my entire being with gratitude. I drove home smiling, feeling lighter than I had two hours earlier as I’d combatted traffic and stop lights to get to my class on time. When I reached my house, I sat at my desk, opened my notebook and made a gratitude list. The page was quickly filled with the names of people who, because of their love, kindness and friendship, have enriched my life.

It wasn’t until this morning that it struck me: my gratitude list was incomplete. For as often as I’ve tried, over the years, to cultivate a practice of letting the people in my life know how much I appreciate them–with letters, little gifts, thank you notes, or, as February 14th nears, even valentines–I am remiss at remembering to appreciate someone in particular.

That someone is a person much like you. She’s has struggled at different times in her life and sometimes won, grieved but often rejoiced, loved (often too well), and sometimes lost. Her body has weathered surgeries, cancer and heartache but it still serves her well, doing its yeoman’s work day in and day out. Her face shows the tell-tale signs of age, and her joints often broadcast her age when she tries to do a new yoga pose. But that someone is more often greeted with an exasperated sigh as she looks in her magnifying mirror to put on her makeup. She sometimes wilts under the harsh words of a fierce internal critic, who trounces all over her writing at regular intervals. She often forgets to be grateful for the person who stares back at her from the mirror. Her face, with all its evidence of a life lived, her body, her unique gifts. That person is me.

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

“Love after Love,” by Derek Walcott, in Sea Grapes, Noonday Press, 1976

“I’m gonna’ sit right down and write myself a letter…” For those of you old enough to remember, the song was first written in 1935 by Fred Ahlert and Joe Young but has since been recorded by many different vocalists. I awakened today remembering my teen-aged self, singing along to Sam Cooke’s recording after being spurned by a teen-aged lover. My dog eyed me with alarm as I danced around the kitchen performing my much older rendition. Call it crazy, but thinking about gratitude and appreciation for the person I am—despite all those mishaps and imperfections—triggered the memory of those long ago lyrics.

Perhaps we all need a reminder, especially after cancer, aging or life hardships, to express gratitude and compassion for ourselves. What better time than right now? Valentine’s Day is traditionally a time we express love and affection for others. Why not add yourself to your valentine’s list? Write a gratitude letter to yourself. You could address it to the wounded child who never received the love she needed, or to the adult, weathering a difficult chapter of life, or to your body, struggling to heal from illness or surgeries, even the older, aging body.

Why not sit right down and write yourself a letter? And while you’re at it, get out the construction paper, the lacy doilies, scissors and glue. Make yourself a valentine and place it over your desk. Let it be a reminder of your gratitude and compassion for yourself, for all you have endured and become. Sit. Feast on your life.

Category: Cancer

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