I love letters, personal letters, letters written from the heart. Some of these letters are pure lighthearted fun, but others feel more spiritual, and not necessarily because they speak of faith or religion. Certain letters just simply ooze love and compassion, they are filled with understanding and encouragement. Other letters inspire, share joy or spill compliments over their recipient. All sorts of letters have the power to take us to a spiritual place.
The last letters I wrote to my cousin Susan before her untimely death were such spiritual letters. Susan was in hospice suffering from lung cancer. She was only 60 years old when she fell ill. Over the years, Susan and I had many happy times together. We enjoyed shared outings, family events, and even though we lived in the same city, we corresponded regularly because we both enjoyed The Art of Letter Writing.
We sent love back and forth to each other through our frequent letters. So when Susan finally became too ill to receive visitors or even talk on the telephone, I decided the best thing I could do to show her how much I cared was to write her a daily letter and that’s just what I did – for seven weeks till her death! These letters were a labor of my love and I like to think they offered her a bit of comfort and joy in her last days on earth.
Susan’s daughter Stephanie would visit Susan and read my letters to her mom and sometimes if Susan was sleeping she’d just read my letters to herself. I never really knew Stephanie up to that point but through Susan’s illness we connected and I think my letters helped that connection take place.
Hopefully Susan is looking down on us feeling happy that I, her cousin and friend, am keeping tabs on the one and only daughter she loved so very much for now Stephanie and I are corresponding. Some day I’ll give Stephanie all the artful letters Susan wrote me, but not yet. Now when I need a dose of Susan’s gentle spirit I just pick up one of her old letters and she’s with me. I wish she could be with me in person, but in spirit is good too and much better than nothing.
Another correspondence that feels particularly spiritual to me was one shared with an elderly gentleman by the name of Harry. Harry was born and raised in Maine, but was living with his children in Virginia at the time of our correspondence. I had just lost my father to Alzheimer’s disease when up popped Harry. We met through The Letter Exchange, that wonderful letter writer’s organization that connects people from all over the world through The Art of Letter Writing.
Harry and I formed our own mutual admiration society. He needed someone to listen to his reminiscences with interest, for his children seemed too busy to show him much attention, and I needed the support, approval, and encouragement that my loving father could no longer supply.
Over the years Harry and I exchanged countless letters, sharing our lives with each other like father and daughter. Some of our letters were serious and others were lighthearted, but all were very caring. I thought about writing a book describing the beauty and value of our letter relationship, thinking it could inspire others, but for now let me just share a few tidbits from our correspondence.
Harry loved to send me presents and who doesn’t love presents? They say it’s better to give then receive and Harry obviously bought into that idea – but I’ll tell you, receiving presents is lots of fun too! Harry was a Romantic. Each of his letters arrived with flowers pressed onto his letter paper. He grew pansies in his Virginia flower box expressly for his letters to me.
He also enclosed tea bags in each of his letters. The tea bags were gift wrapped and tied with gold chords. He also grew edible flowers that he dried, pressed, sugared, and gift wrapped, sending them to me for use at the regular tea parties I hosted. How sweet is that?
I’d have to be careful what I’d tell him in my letters, for once I casually mentioned never having tasted spoon bread, a food Harry loved. I told him I never even saw it in my Ohio supermarkets. Well, Harry took care of that! He sent me a case of spoon bread mix the very next week. I guess he was pretty confident I’d like spoon bread too.
Food gifts from Harry were regular deliveries – mustards from Maine, fruitcakes at Christmas, chocolates, teas, but one time when Harry revisited the camp in Maine where he lived as a child he was very excited to discover goose tongue greens still growing in the old place. He picked a basket-full and wrapped them up sending them to me. They arrived looking limp and very much like the weeds I pull out from my herb garden. I was very touched by his kindness, but not touched enough to eat them. Sorry Harry.
But there were so many other gifts. I can’t tell you about all of them now, but here are just a few.
Miniature Victorian slippers
A colorful shawl
With lovely inscriptions
But my favorite gift from Harry was this lovely painting created with his own hands. He took the poem of Arthur Christopher Benson and carefully copied it in an artful manner. The poem on friendship read:
“Because of a friend, life is a little stronger, fuller, a more gracious thing for the fruit’s existence. Whether (s)he is near or far, if the friend is close at hand, that is best, but if (s)he is far away (s)he still is there to think of, to wonder about, to hear from, to write to, to share life and experience with, to serve, to honor, to admire, to love.”
He signed his name beneath the author’s name. Perhaps you’re beginning to see just how generous and how wonderful a friend he was to me. You can imagine my delight each day at mail time. I never knew what surprise would be awaiting me.
Then there was the time Harry went to Maine, to a lake that he loved. He made the journey all alone despite protestations from his family. They were too busy as usual to accompany him on this trip that he was desperate to enjoy one last time. I didn’t want Harry to feel lonely so I wrote him every day while he was there. For this gesture I was awarded the title – “Lady of the Lake”. He wanted to share this lake he loved so much with me so he took countless pictures and taped them all together so as to create a panoramic view. This foot-long picture he sent to me. Sharing was important to Harry just as it is important to me. We both believed sharing doubles the joy.
Harry told me if it weren’t for our correspondence he wouldn’t care to live any longer. Now that sounds a bit extreme, but I believe he meant every word of it. Harry needed someone to care about him. My letters told him I cared. Such a simple thing, old fashioned hand written letters from the heart, but they can pack a powerful punch of love and friendship.
I was proud of myself and happy that I could be making such a big difference in someone’s life, and Harry certainly made me feel special and valuable in return. As I said, Harry and I formed our own mutual admiration society and I recommend everyone belong to such a society.
If you are a person of faith you probably feel as I do – that we all have a loving father in heaven who cares and believes in us, but it sure is nice to have loving people down here on earth who make us feel good about ourselves too. Harry called me his pearl of great price. There were, and are, plenty of days I don’t feel much like a pearl of great price, but I just dip into Harry’s letters and reread his words and I get a royal pep talk that makes me feel much better. I bet you wish you had a Harry in your life too. Well, go find one. There are people all around and everybody needs to feel loved and appreciated.
Though Harry was truly a religious person and spiritual subjects did come up, we didn’t need to speak about spiritual matters in order for our friendship to feel spiritual. Simple caring created the spiritual feeling.
It is my wish for you to encounter correspondences like the ones I enjoyed with Harry and my cousin Susan. You will then see firsthand how letter writing is the best kept secret of the modern world. Letter writing is a physical craft and a very artful one, a social activity that delights and entertains, an intellectual exercise that stimulates, and it can become a spiritual ministry. This art, The Art of Letter Writing, is a complete treat.
Sharing my love and experience with letters has been a joy for me and I hope for you too. I also hope I’ve inspired you (if you aren’t already a letter writer) to pick up a pen and begin your own adventure with letters. I know this art will enrich your life as it has enriched mine, and I know you will bring joy to others as you reach out to them in love.