Several years ago I came home from teaching a 2-week camp with some sort of virus.  After my doctor tested me for mono and stereo and everything else he could think of, I went home with my prednisone to just tough it out.

I was too sick to get out, but not sick enough to stay in bed (and prednisone doesn’t let me sleep, anyway,) so I decided to clean out a huge tub of letters.

I found all sorts of letters in that box.  There were letters from friends who wrote me regularly, and letters from people who rarely wrote at all.  I found those letters that my heart had waited to get—letters from the people I loved the best and missed the most when I was away from them.

There were a couple of surprises, too:  I found two or three long letters from someone I didn’t even remember.  I had a vague image of a face when I saw the writing and the signature, but no last name, no memory of how I knew her.  That still bothers me.  Who was this person who spent so much time writing to me, pouring out her heart, and now I don’t even remember her?

But that wasn’t the worst.  I found several letters from a dear friend of mine.  I remember him well, and I remember how much I cherished his friendship.*  I remember getting the letters; he was so creative and funny.  I was excited to find his letters again and re-read them because even though I hadn’t seen him or talked to him in many years (I knew he was married by then and lived in another state), he still ranked way up there in my heart as one of my great friends.

So imagine my horror as I read one of the letters—the only one that didn’t involve some sort of drawing or other silly nonsense—and realized that it was a love letter.  My dear friend had poured out his heart to me and somehow I missed it.

(If you’ll allow me just a little bit of leeway to make excuses for myself, to beg that the court be lenient, I was going through a really rough patch myself back then.  I was in the process of deciding to not be a musician–at the very time when I was supposed to declare a major, not un-declare it–my grades were in the toilet, I was suffering from undiagnosed narcolepsy, and I was living in a house that would eventually be condemned by the health department.  It was a traumatic summer.)

He wrote me a love letter, and I missed it, but the beautiful part about him and his love for me is that he didn’t discontinue his friendship when I didn’t respond in kind.

Even so as I re-read the letter 15 years later, I couldn’t help but think, “What if?”

What if?  Would he have been the great love of my life?

I don’t know.  Here’s what I do know:  He did not make a big deal out of me missing his pronouncement.  He remained my friend, and we maintained that friendship over state lines for several more years.  He met and married his wife and is happy, and I am back in touch with him through the magic of social networking (and the phenomenon of six degrees of separation, but that’s another story.)

What about me, though?  I’m still alone, so that’s sad, right?

It’s only sad if I failed to learn from it.  It’s only a tragedy if I still can’t see the love letters right in front of my face, the little ways that people tell me that they love me.  It’s only sad if I fail to write a few love letters of my own from time to time, and damn the consequences.

*Don’t even think that you know who this is, unless I already told you.  I have lots of guy friends who were madly in love with me who are married now and have moved to other states.  Dozens.  Scores.  You’re probably one of them, in fact…