The Pleasure of a Letter

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Dear _______________,

You already know my name.  It’s Carol Ann, but I wish I knew your name so I could address this letter to you properly.  Yes, it is a letter that you’re reading  even though it’s not the typical letter I write each day – the kind that uses paper, ink, postage stamps and sealing wax.

We have something in common, you and I, we  both have an interest in the Art of Letter Writing.  I absolutely love letters – to write them and to write about them, to receive them, and to share my enthusiasm for them with others.

Do you write many letters?  I figure I’ve written at least 10,000 letters so far.  That number was easy to come up with because for the last 20 years or so I’ve been writing one letter each morning with my coffee before I do any other thing, and very often I write more letters later in the day.

If I have a boring job to do (like cleaning the house)  I’ll make the job more tolerable by giving myself permission to take breaks here and there and in those breaks  I’ll write  a page of a letter.    Do you do things like that?

I’m sure I could happily write letters all day long if I allowed myself to do so, but I do enjoy a few other things. well maybe more than a few, so at this time in my life I limit my letter writing.  The day may come when I feel this limitation is unnecessary.

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A letter from a friend

After all, isn’t it Ralph Waldo Emerson, my very own “dead friend”, who said “To find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of golden hours is wisdom.” So perhaps it would be a very wise move for me to grant myself permission to write more letters even now.  What do you love to do?  What could be more golden than filling our days with  our most favorite things?

You’re reading these words of mine and I’m happy you are, sharing really does double my joy, but perhaps one of these days you’ll be inspired to write of a few words of your own and send those words off to me.  I’d love that!  You might write a comment at the end of this post or take out paper and a pen to write a real old-fashioned missive, one I could keep in a box and refer to time and time again,  saving the letter for my future grandchildren to enjoy some day. 

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It seems to me that our task on earth is to find our deep soul work and throw ourselves into it head-long.  For me letters play a big part in that soul work for as I delight in the writing and receiving of letters carrying on this beautiful old art form, helping to keep the art alive,  I am also able to share many other joys with lots and lots of people.

We’re all in this life together and the more connected we are to each other the richer our lives become.  In letters we share the daily comings and goings of life, but so much more.  In letters we share ideas and philosophy.   My old letter friend, Harry, was always putting beautiful, thought-provoking ideas into my head.  One idea I liked very much, one that I’m forever sharing with others is this:

WORK AND WORRY ARE STURDY WEEDS,  BUT JOY REQUIRES CULTIVATION.

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What joys are you cultivating?  Being a gardener I can’t help but relate the cultivation of my joys to the cultivation of my herbs and flowers.  My favorite plants don’t just happen, but strangely the weeds in my garden do.  So it is with our joys.  Developing  joys into passions take time and effort.  First, we need to identify our favorite things just as we need to plant flower seeds.  Then we need to work those favorite things  just as we need to work and fertilize the soil around our plants.  This takes time and effort.   I’ll often ask people what passions they’ve cultivated  and very often they just give me a blank stare.

What does this have to do with the Art of Letter Writing?  Well, good letters ask questions and get one thinking.  Writing letters provide us with that quiet time to think, ponder and reflect. In today’s world it’s not so easy to find ourselves alone in quiet.  Thomas Edison would go to a lake holding a fishing pole.  There was no bait on that pole, but people left him alone since they assumed he was fishing and needed quiet.  Well, he did need quiet, but not to fish.  He needed quiet to think.

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In writing our  letters we are giving ourselves quiet alone time to think, but we’re also connecting to others at the same time.  Lord Byron, another favorite “dead friend”, put this idea beautifully  when He said, “Only in letter writing do we have solitude and society simultaneously”.  We’re alone with our thoughts, but we’re also sharing them with our letter friend.  Our friend receives those thoughts, ponders them, adds his or her own, perhaps includes a few more questions for discussion, and the end result is a rich mix for both of us.

 People always ask me what in the world I can find to talk about in a letter.  They forget a letter is a conversation and if our mind happens to be blank one day all we have to do is read our friend’s letter and respond to the ideas we find there.

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Henry David Thoreau, (yes, another “dead friend” –  I have lots of them) said, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with successes unexpected in common hours.”

Time alone spent in reflection can help us get in tune with ourselves, and how nice it is if we can also get in tune with others at the same time.  Letter writing provides us with this opportunity.  It’s no wonder I find writing letters such a complete treat and maybe you do too.  It gives me a time to sit and rest, a time to ponder the life I have and the life I want to have, and it offers me the opportunity to share my life with others.

SHARING DOUBLES THE JOY AND DIVIDES THE SORROW

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So when I find a letter in my mail box addressed just to me, I’m delighted!  Someone was thinking of me.  Someone  wanted to share.  I can’t wait to read what they have to say.  I’m delighted to sit myself down and ponder their thoughts.  I’m then anxious to reply, though life does get in the way at times for a quick reply.

What activities fill you with delight?  Are you cultivating your joys?  Are you sharing them?  Are you achieving the wisdom that comes from living hours that are golden?  Are you advancing confidently in the direction of your dreams?  If you’re a letter writer I bet the answer to all these questions is a big YES!  And these questions are great to include in  your letters to others for questions like these will help your friends focus on some of the most  important issues of life.  Maybe one of those next letters you write will be going off to ME!  I hope so.  I’d love to hear from you.  Really!

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Here’s wishing you golden days  filled with wisdom.

Truly,

Carol Ann

Emerson, Tea, Nature and Me

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Ralph Waldo Emerson
Are you familiar with the life and work of Ralph Waldo Emerson?  I met Emerson some years ago when I lived in Boston.  Because I’ve always  loved old houses and historic towns I spent a lot of time in Concord where  Emerson lived.  Concord  is a charming town just outside of Boston proper.  I’d pop over to Emerson’s house often, stroll through his rooms, look over his books – why I even was in his bedroom many times  where I saw quite a few of his personal things, like the actual dressing gown he wore most  evenings.  I’d walk around his garden and spend time with him, pondering his shrewd observations and penetrating perceptions.

Now you may wonder how I could do that.  After all, Emerson was born in 1803 and  I’m not 210 years old as Emerson is.  Well, if you know me at all you know I have lots of friends – some local,  some letter friends far away, some living and some who are what I call “dead friends”.  “Dead friends” are people from the past who I get to know through their writings, accomplishments  and other work.  Emerson  is one of those “dead friends”.

Emerson was not only a fine and popular lecturer in his day, but lucky for us he was also a writer, capturing his thoughts on paper.  It’s so important we all do this, write,  or how will people of the future know we ever existed, not yet understand what we were all about?

We should all keep journals and write letters.  I write one letter every morning.  This morning’s letter went to my good friend Evelyna.

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Evelyna’s letter
Though Evelyna  lives nearby allowing us the pleasure of in-person get-togethers  our letters provide us with extra opportunities to share, and this sharing is lasting.  My great grandchildren will be able to get to know me and my friendship with Evelyna some day thanks to those letters – just as I have gotten to know Emerson thanks to his writing.

By the way, Emerson thought letter writing was a very good thing as I do for he felt it helped people communicate gentle thoughts to each other.  In his essay on friendship he wrote:  “Our intellectual and active powers increase with our affection.  The scholar sits down to write, and all his years of meditation do not furnish him with one good thought or happy expression; but it is necessary to write a letter to a friend, — and, forthwith, troops of gentle thoughts invest themselves, on every hand, with chosen words.”

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Then there’s the subject of nature.  I love nature!  Emerson loved nature too.  How about you?    Do you take the time to wander fields and streams, hill and dale?  I do hope so.  Nature is so refreshing.  Though my friend Emerson values friendship as I do, we both have felt the need to escape  from society at times and enjoy the solitude and beauty that nature provides.  Emerson put it this way:  “Society (sometimes)  seems noxious.  I believe that against these baleful influences Nature is the antidote.  The man comes out of the wrangle of the shop and office, and sees the sky and woods, and is a man again … But how few men see the sky and woods!”

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A walk in nature can refresh us like nothing else.  To focus on the details we see, like a patch of pretty daffodils… improves us somehow.

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Perhaps this is because,  as Emerson states in his essay on nature:  “Every moment (in nature) instructs, and every object:  for wisdom is infused in every form.”

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Instruction can be had at tea time too.  If I pull up a chair, open a book ( maybe one of Emerson’s books) light a candle and pour a cup of tea, new ideas come forth.  So many ideas –  for so many wonderful “dead friends” are there for us to enjoy.  They have so much to share with us.   But living, breathing friends make wonderful tea guests too, sharing their ideas.

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I prepare a tray of goodies,  invite a friend or two, and we take a break from our busy lives.  Just as a stroll through nature can relax and refresh,  so too can in-person sharing , especially if the setting is calm and peaceful.

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I was pleased that the day of my last tea was cool and rainy for I was able to light a fire and fill the room with the twinkle of candlelight.  In this setting time seemed to slow down and my friends and I could enjoy each other’s company – talk of our current interests and inspire each other with our joys.

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Joni spoke of her love of baking,  and in fact she brought me a beautiful box of her homemade cupcakes and fudge.  She’s such a wonderful friend and such a culinary artist, not only whipping up luscious goodies in her kitchen, but  packaging them so beautifully  and sharing them with others – others like ME!

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Joni’s pretty box of goodies
My other guest was someone new to me,  Mary.  I love to invite new people to tea, people  I like but don’t know very well – YET!  Tea can help  transform acquaintances into friends and who doesn’t enjoy having lots of wonderful friends?

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Mary spoke of her love for tennis and  her work for our community foundation.  She was a lovely guest – and not only because she also brought me  homemade goodies, goodies that she baked just for me.  Sweet, sweet, sweet!

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Mary gave me  lemon bread which I promptly wrapped in freezer paper so it will be fresh and ready for Sunday brunch.  Yum!  Oh to know ladies who have domestic skill and a generous spirit.

Another “dead friend” , Robert Louis Stevenson, said “The world is so full of a number of things I think we should all be as happy as kings”.  I’m happy.  You happy?

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There’s tea.   There’s nature.  There are  new, old, living and “dead friends to keep us company… and there’s so much more.  I hope you are focusing on all that good, and I hope you’re sharing your joy.  Why?  You know.

Sharing Doubles the Joy

Till next time then.

Be Happy!

When Things Come Together

The other day I received an important  message.  Today that message is coming to you.  The message came at me from three separate sources:  from Mister Rogers of classic tv’s Mister Roger’s Neighborhood,  from Eloise, a fictitious little girl of the classic Eloise book series by Kay Thompson and from Amy Hollingsworth, a writer.  These three  individuals directed me to another book and the source of the message, to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince.  I don’t know about you, but when things come at me in two’s or three’s I pay attention.

It all started when I was reading The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers by Amy Hollingsworth

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and a lovely book it is too,  filled with many warm and wonderful spiritual reflections. (I highly recommend this book to you.)  It seems The Little Prince was one of Mister Roger’s favorites.  Amy, one of Fred’s pen friends, said Fred spent most of his life quoting the following words from The Little Prince: 

L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux

Well, I always loved Mister Rogers and I’ve written to him myself.  I also love the French language, along with many other  French things – French food and the restaurants that serve it, the French countryside, and my lovely  French friends, Stephanie, Patrice and their sweet children – Llyona, Marc-Aurele and Arpad.  So, when the above French words popped out at me from the Mister Rogers’ book, of course I took special notice of them.  In case you don’t speak French here’s what they mean:

“What is essential is invisible to the eye”

Have you ever given thought to this idea?  I have, especially in regard to  letter writing.  You see, I write to very many people whom I’ve never met ‘in person’, never even seen in a picture.  I get to know many of these people by way of  The Letter Exchange, (www.letter-exchange.com) an organization which puts letter writers together.  Though some folks I meet in this way will send pictures of themselves, most will not, but pictures or no pictures,  great friendships evolve as letters are shared.  You may think it strange that people could become great friends even though they have  absolutely no idea what each other  look like, but it is possible.  I have many of such friends. (Hello to Gwen, Patricia, Erika, and all the rest of you)  Why, I could be sitting next to one of these favorite people on a plane and never even know it!   But  I’ve often thought how wonderful this is, for  in letter writing people can get to know each other’s spirit without  letting physical appearance get in the way.  Looks can be so deceiving you know!  And I do believe

“What is essential is invisible to the eye”

But besides the spirit of a person being invisible yet very important, there are many other invisible things we should not  neglect.  What do you think they are?  What is essential for you? It’s good to take time out for serious reflection now and then, the kind of reflection letter writing provides, for only with thoughtful reflection will we ever come to know what is essential.

My “dead friend” Lord Byron, the poet,  put it very well when he used to say: 

             A life without reflection is a sad affair 

But you may be wondering where Eloise comes in to this story.  Well, I was having a movie night for the children in my church choir  and  I needed a good film so I did a search on Net Flix for something fun, but something that was also thoughtful.   I came upon a Disney remake of the classic Eloise at the Plaza.  Ah, the Plaza!  I love that hotel in New York City.

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The Plaza

So that was enough for me and the film proved to be just delightful.  I suggest you check it out no matter how old you are.  Julie Andrews plays a darling nanny (nothing like Mary Poppins).

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An older nanny, but very sweet

    And Eloise is so cute, so devilish, but  so full of life and thoughtful too – I found her very inspiring.  We’d all have a lot more fun if we acted like Eloise now and then.

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Eloise

Disney was so true to the book too – a wonderful thing.  Here’s an example.  Just take a look at the book and then a scene from the film.

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And the film had a little prince in it too -not Antoine’s Little Prince but a prince just the same, a prince who was quite touched by the message in Saint Exupery’s  book, a book which became  important to Eloise’s story.  The prince was touched by the  message in The Little Prince as was I, as was Mister Rogers and  hopefully as  you are too… because it’s so very true.

“L’ essentiel est invisible pour les yeux”

WHAT IS ESSENTIAL IS INVISIBLE TO THE EYE

Let this be your thought for the day

(or at least one of them)

by way of Mister Rogers, Eloise,  Amy Hollingsworth

and

ME!