In the course of my life, I have been the privileged recipient of many love letters. Some so tender they are heart-breaking, others so sweet they made me tingle, and still others so suggestive, I involuntarily blushed while reading them. But the best — always and without exception — were the ones that were short and simple and devastating in their sincerity.
This morning, I was rendered dumbstruck — truly, mouth gaping, breath holding, eyes wide — when I read two love letters written by Johnny Cash for his wife, June Carter Cash. They were published by Letters of Note, a blog that is something of an altar to the written word, in all of its power and beauty.
You might remember John and June’s love story as portrayed in the film, “Walk the Line,” and you probably assumed that the love story was embellished for Hollywood’s sake, but you’d be mostly wrong. June Carter blew him away from the beginning and Johnny Cash didn’t stand a chance of getting over her. Despite being married, despite being a screw-up and an addict, when love hit Johnny Cash over the head, he knew it and he was utterly powerless in its wake. For a certified bad-ass, it’s especially touching how vulnerable he was to his feelings for this woman.
I think that John’s letter to June on her 65th birthday in June 1994 is so perfect that I hesitate to dissect it too much, lest I disturb its beauty. I think I would love it no matter what, but I am fiercely attached to it because John composed it as an ode, not to a young woman, unblemished by time or nature, but to an older woman whose spirit and soul continued to shine and entrance him.
The second letter is bittersweet, having been written just a couple of months after June’s death in 2003. Its simplicity conveys so much — grief, and loss, and yearning.
John died two months after writing this note, four short months after June. Their children expressed surprise that he lasted that long without her.
Do you suppose that June Carter Cash knew what she had? Do you suppose that by the time they got together (he’d been married once and she multiple times), she understood how rare and priceless a connection such as theirs is? Do you suppose that she loved him back just as much?
Looking at this photo, I’d say the answer to all is a definite “yes.”