For the Sender: A Book, Album and Concert Event

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It was autumn when I got the first letter from Emily, who I didn’t yet know but had somehow come across my songs.

I was watching my dreams fall like the leaves on the limbs outside my window, barely hanging on before quietly drifting to the ground.

And it wasn’t only my dreams. My best friend, a labrador named Kona, had recently succumbed to bone cancer with her head on my lap in my living room, and I was taking a hard look at my life as a result.

Her death closed a chapter of my life, one of chasing dreams and retreating into solitude when things didn’t work out. I didn’t know what the next chapter looked like, but I did know that the leaves were doing a better job of letting go than I was.

So, me and the leaves were barely hanging on when I got the letter.

Dear Alex,

Every year around this time, I feel a little nostalgic and sad, because this is the season when I lost someone who meant a great deal to me. You see, I am one of the lucky ones. I have experienced the amazing connection of love with a soul mate. A real kindred spirit. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago, but I still consider myself lucky, not only because I have felt true love, but I have lost it as well and that too can be considered a gift; for I now know even more than before just how precious life and love are. Of course, I am not always able to smile through the day, sometimes I still miss him, painfully so. Like in autumn, not only the time of year when he was taken from me, but also the time we loved best. So, every year around this time, when the memories fill me, I write him a letter. I thought I’d share it with you, not so you’d write a song for he and I, but because I think your songs are gifts. Pieces of yourself used to help other people with their stories. So, here is a piece of myself. It is all I have to share in return for the wonderful thing you are doing with your music and your talent.

—Emily

I opened the additional parchment-thin pages, and the auburn-colored leaves included in the envelope fell out onto the table along with a photograph of a man with his arms outstretched, who I assumed was Emily’s soul mate.

And the air caught in my throat as I began to read.

Dear Anno,

The leaves have begun to change again. It began a few weeks ago, but with a subtlety I am not sure I can describe. As if Nature was planning a surprise party, for weeks the plans go on behind your back, bit by bit. Then suddenly one morning you walk outside, and the brisk autumn air screams “SURPRISE!” You look up and see all the colors, like old friends: orange, umber, yellow, sienna, burgundy, green, and brown. The trees are ablaze in a patchwork of fiery brilliance that comforts your very soul.

My favorite coffee shop has pumpkin coffee now. I drink it down in gulps that fill my thoughts with memories of autumns past when we carved funny faces in pumpkins and ate caramels as we walked in the woods looking for pinecones. We were so young then, so happy and free spirited. I still feel that way sometimes. It’s like a cosmic gift from the universe. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does- Oh, the feeling! Like an orgasm for the soul when you feel alive and free of worry. When doubt and fear are strangers to you and you remember what fun feels like. Do you remember fun? We used to have lots of it this time of year; jumping in leaf piles and laughing, hot apple cider flowing in our veins, the smell of cinnamon and spice in the air.

It lasted only a short time before the season of hot cocoa and snowflakes would quickly drift in and frost over our little world, but while it lasted, autumn was a happy time. We were young and in love, and the world was beautiful.

I still miss you, you know, when the trees are on fire, my heart yearns for you. When the night becomes chilled and the hot apple cider is sipped around the bonfires, I still think of you. Sometimes, I swear I can feel your arms wrap around me at night when I stand out in the cold. The cool night wind tickles my neck like the scruff of your unshaved face as we cuddled close to the fire.

I don’t know where the soul goes when a person dies, but I hope it is autumn where you are, too, and that you think of me sometimes when the leaves blow off the trees and the jack-olanterns are smiling. I miss you.

Forever… Your Em

Emily’s words about her own loss, love, and gratitude resonated deeply with me, almost as if she knew what I was going through and had sent the letter on purpose.

I showed it to my friend Sean Watkins and we wrote a song about it called “For the Sender,” which launched this project.

The song is about how sometimes a letter is like a prayer, in that it’s more for the sender than the receiver.
For the Sender
hello my friend
it’s me again
writing words i cannot send you

autumn’s cold
the leaves are old
and letting go but not me

cause it’s when we met
and it’s when you left
and it’s when our love was the best
so every year i write you this letter
but like a prayer
it’s more for the sender
do you remember

sometimes i swear
you’re in the air
am i just a great pretender

am i alone
i want to know
if you remember

it’s when we met
and it’s when you left
and it’s when our love was the best
so every year i write you this letter
but like a prayer
it’s more for the sender

do you remember
do you remember
do you remember
do you remember

That song led to another, then another, and then more letters and more songs about them, until eventually I had four letters and twelve songs from the Grammy-winning, platinum-selling musicians who lived around my neighborhood.

I began to let go of this identity I had built for myself and learned lessons in trusting the process and letting go.

I traveled from Connecticut to Haiti, surprising the women that wrote me the letters with performances of the songs they inspired.

And as the project evolved, I noticed that the letters seemed to bring out beautiful truths buried in the wreckage of tragedy.

I could see how the struggles and triumphs we talk about over dinner, or on the playground, or to the mirror, are unique because they come from different voices, but are all part of the same conversation. The stories belong to all of us.

And then, one morning after surfing, while I was dripping saltwater from my wetsuit onto the kitchen floor, I realized I had my own letter. And my own song about it.

I made my way to where a box still sits, high on a shelf in my living room, and opened the wooden lid.

I took out the 3 crumpled pages of a letter I had written a few years before, and began to read. Then cry. Then read, then cry.

Like a prayer, those words were more for the sender.

For a limited time, Alex and the For the Sender musicians are giving away a song as a free download. Click on the image and enter code 5AXBF7MA2J4T to download your free copy of “My Love Will Find You,” featuring Jordan Pundik (New Found Glory) and Molly Jenson. 

About the Author

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Alex Woodard released five critically acclaimed full-length albums in ten years and toured extensively across the country, sharing the stage with some of the industry’s finest performers. The video for his song 'Reno' spent almost a month at No. 1 on CMTs “Pure Country Countdown” before a series of life-changing events transformed Woodard’s career. His book/album package For The Sender features his story of release and redemption woven through songs written about real-life letters. Learn more at AlexWoodard.com and facebook.com/forthesender. When he’s not surfing in his beach town north of San Diego, Alex lives with a big dog and bigger horse in the mountains of Idaho.

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