This weekend, I was honored to have two of my greatest loves – my family and my writing – be celebrated in the San Francisco Examiner by Janet Gallin, who helps people publish love letters “filled with hope, passion, compassion, memories, gratitude and promises.”
Mine was to my daughter, Annalie. The truth is I submitted this particular piece because I heard about and wanted to be part of Gallin’s project, but with 16 story deadlines in four weeks, had no time to craft anything new. I dug out an essay I’d written last spring and sent it in an e-mail, wishing for the best. Two days later, on a Saturday, Gallin left a voicemail saying she wasn’t in the office over the weekend but wanted me to know she hoped to run my piece – along with a photo slide show – right away.
Excuse me? I had to pinch myself. The publishing world just doesn’t work this way.
As if that weren’t enough, over the next week I developed a relationship with this woman that drew me back to another time, a time when people took significant care both with the thoughts they wanted to communicate and the way in which they communicated them. She e-mailed in beautiful prose, and I became increasingly curious about how she would introduce me in her column. I was at a friend’s house for dinner the night the link went live:
“Despite Robin’s blessing herself with a gift of holy water from Lourdes, the road to motherhood was painfully indirect. It eluded her through three in vitro miscarriages in one year, passed her by as friends were starting their families, and dodged her as she lived through hopes complicated by vivid dreams of impossible births. Then finally the daughter she and her husband Patrick were meant to have.
Her name is Annalie. Annalie Flanigan. It was an open adoption with the birthparents that brought them their beautiful, loving, profoundly communicative, empathetic and wise-beyond-her-years little girl.
Robin, that is Robin L. Flanigan, a freelance journalist and editor living in Rochester. N.Y. who is now working on a creative nonfiction book about love, loss, and second chances, is no stranger to expressing herself powerfully on paper. Last year, for the annual celebration the family takes part in to honor the difficult choice that comes with placing a baby, she wrote an essay that she so movingly turned into love-letter to her daughter, a love letter that will be a significant part of Robin and Patrick’s legacy to Annalie.
From Robin: ‘A week ago Saturday, my 7-year-old daughter and I were walking in a church parking lot. We were holding hands, the sun was shining, and I felt this feeling that washes over me sometimes when I least expect it.
It usually happens when I’m going from here to there, and something Annalie does shifts my focus, causes me in a flash to notice how independent she’s trying to be, or how articulately she’s expressing herself, or how terrifyingly fast time is passing. In that instant, I’m swept from the daily grind into a moment so full of presence, so beautifully and mysteriously orchestrated, that I stop what I’m doing and drink her in.
But last week, I couldn’t stop. We were on our way to a friend’s first communion, and a traffic detour meant we’d arrived at the church with only four minutes to spare. I wish I could remember what Annalie said to prompt that mental shift, allowing me to forget about the time and treasure the warmth of her hand in mine. What I do remember is the overwhelming desire to remind her how much she means to me.
I squeezed her palm.
“How did I get so lucky that God gave you to me?”
She didn’t miss a beat.
“Jessica was lucky to find you.”
I swallowed. Annalie turned her head to look at me. She could see me fighting back tears and she smiled.
I cannot fully express the deep sense of peace she reinforced, knowing that underneath those six words was an acceptance and appreciation for her place in this world.
In that moment, my head filled with images of Jessica, of her sacrifice and love for this growing gift beside me. And I was immensely relieved, as I always am, that Annalie finds her way so easily into the story she’s weaving for herself.
When I think about how things have played out for all of us, for my family and for Jessica’s, I wonder whether luck has anything to do with it.
I read this short essay at the Birthmother’s Day celebration last May. I know you were making crafts with some other children at a back table and didn’t hear me at the microphone, so when I came across it the other day, I wanted to share it with you. As you already know, it’s not the first time I’ve written about your adoption, and it won’t be the last. I put our experiences into words to document and honor this voyage of ours, and hope that when you read about them from my perspective, you will always feel the unbounded love that surrounds you from every direction.
To my dream come true,
Thank you, Robin, for sharing what is an exceptional expression of love to those who took part in the creation of your beautiful family.
From me to you with love in the air,
I’m thankful every Thanksgiving, but to be able to have something so meaningful be shared in such a public way (through a newspaper whose past writers include Mark Twain and Jack London, no less) is nothing short of a privilege.
What about you? Do you have old works that might be repurposed in new ways? Think about it…
In the meantime, to read other love letters, go to http://www.examiner.com/love-letter-in-san-francisco/janet-gallin-love-letters-live.