Shown here in the 1960s, lengendary Leonard Cohen has written a final letter to his muse, Marianne, some 50 years after their relationship. We should all be so expressive.
For someone who sort of makes a living putting words together, I'm amazed at how pathetic I am at expressing any sort of feelings at all.
Maybe it is all these years of punching away at a computer keyboard, telling someone else's stories, but when it comes time to actually take a pen in hand to write a personal letter, these days, I've got nothing. Can't think of a thing to say or a way to say it.
My two children were born two years and ten days apart, so each year I find myself writing out their birthday cards at pretty much the same time on some sultry evening in early August. Again, I've got nothing.
Oh, I put words on their cards. Try to tell them how proud I am of all they have accomplished in school and in life. Wish them a grand and exciting year ahead. Tell them I miss them.
And then I look at it and think, "a monkey could have written this." It seems standard and pat and mechanical when what I feel is anything but. A parent could put that attempt at a message on a rubber stamp and reuse it every year.
Even love seems like such an overused term that it has lost a lot of its meeting. It seems barely more personal than "later alligator."
How do you try to tell people who are your whole world what they mean to you? You don't want to sound all goony about it, but you do want them to know.
Saying you're proud doesn't begin to express what you really feel, which is something along the lines of your heart just about bursting in your ribcage.
Saying "miss you" doesn't begin to say how much you really do, in the bittersweet years in which they come of age, in stages move on, and begin to lay groundwork for their own lives, careers and families.
Wishing them well for their futures sounds pretty hollow next to how you really feel - how your first thought on waking every morning and your last before falling asleep at night is a longing for the world to be a kind place to them. Are they doing okay? Do they have enough money? Are they eating enough? Do they have enough blankets? Are they happy? No, really happy??
Can't get that on a card, or a Tweet, or a Facebook post. At least I can't. Does anyone else experience this? Some emotions, they just don't seem to make words for. Or maybe it's just that some of us don't have the ability to do them justice.
I remember being told once that perfect writing is that which says everything, and nothing more. Take a sentence in the Bible: "Jesus wept." It tells all that it needs to, and no more. There is nothing to add, nothing to take away, that would improve it.
A letter I read the other day comes damn close to perfection, I think.
Songwriter-poet Leonard Cohen, upon hearing of the impending death from leukemia of his long-lost muse, Norway-born Marianne Ihlen - inspiration for his songs "So Long Marianne" and "Bird on a Wire" - wrote in less time than it takes me to type this column, this touching letter.
"Well Marianne, it's come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can touch mine.
"And you know that I've always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don't need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road."
When the letter was read to her, Marianne smiled. She lifted her hand, at the part where he said he was close enough to touch her. Two days later she slipped into unconsciousness, and as her family put it, "Her soul had flown out the window to new adventures."
Like me, you may not have the words. Your feelings may come out all jumbled and awkward on paper.
But don't leave that letter, that card, or even that internet post to someone who matters unsaid. Words are hard, but time, we are not guaranteed.