Love + Letters = Love Letters

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A while back I attended a lecture at my Church given by a cardiologist and  professor from Notre Dame University in Indiana. This man had impressive credentials for sure, but the crowd hadn’t gathered to hear him speak because of his accomplishments in medicine and education.  We were all there because at one time this man had worked side by side with Mother Teresa, that tiny woman who possessed no fancy degrees or titles, only a great big loving heart and the desire to serve others.  He shared with us all sorts of stories about Mother Teresa.

After attending this lecture I found myself running into Mother Teresa everywhere I went – not in person of course, but in books and articles telling even more stories about her life and work.  Being a spiritual person myself, I figured  this had to mean something.  I decided Mother Teresa must be trying to get through to me because she knew I reach out to lots of people through my writing and she must have had a few ideas she wanted to share with me, ideas that I then would share with you.

Here’s one of those ideas.

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“I do not agree with the big way of doing things.  What matters is the individual.  To get to love a person, we must come into close contact with them.  If we wait until we get the numbers, then we will be lost in the numbers and we will never be able to show that love and respect for the person.”

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of HTSABO

“What do these words mean to you?  To me, an avid letter writer,  these words reinforce the value of writing letters one at a time to one person at a time.  There are ways to address many people at once – Facebook for one thing – and I like Facebook, but Facebook lacks intimacy, the sort of intimacy a personal letter offers. Without intimacy we can never get beyond superficial relationships and  to feel loved we need these deeper relationships.

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The news is filled with stories of human suffering.  People find themselves homeless because of war, natural disasters, or personal misfortune.  Others are in need of food and clothing.  They could be living across the world or in our own town.  We want to help all these people but without big bags of money it seems we can do so little.

But Mother Teresa reminds us that,

“Nakedness is not only for a piece of cloth.  Nakedness is for human dignity, for respect.  Homelessness is not only for a home made of bricks.  Homelessness is being rejected, unloved, uncared for, having forgotten what is human touch.”

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When we write a personal letter to show we care about a home-bound, elderly, or  sick person in the hospital, or to anyone lonely or grieving, we are helping to make the world a brighter place.  We are relieving suffering just a little bit.  We may not be able to do everything for everybody, but any little bit of kindness helps.  I’m sure Mother Teresa would agree.

Another idea Mother Teresa shared with me, an idea that I want to share with you, is that thoughtfulness is the beginning of great sanctity.  Webster defines sanctity as holiness and saintliness so it follows that when we write a thoughtful letter to someone, but especially when we write to those who are suffering in some way, we are on our way to becoming saints, and don’t you want to become a saint?  I do.

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Just remember, all our words will be useless unless they come from within.  That’s not my advice.  It comes straight from Mother Teresa.  It’s important to be real when we speak to someone in person and when we write a letter as well.  We must look into ourselves and share our true spirit, our true feelings, our dreams, faith, hope and ideas.  All good letter writers reach deeply into themselves and share from this interior place.

My dear pen friend Vicki who hails from Iowa, puts it this way and I agree with her completely.

“My friendships through letters are often closer than those in person, for the process of writing seems to draw more private thoughts from a person.”

So, how do you love?  Are you trying to make a big splash by doing monumental things?  Well, good luck with that, but remember what worked for Mother Teresa.  Her one-to-one approach might not have allowed her to treat millions herself, but she certainly had an impact on the world.  By her actions she inspired others to carry on her work.

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Mother Teresa was only one very small person, and so am I, and so are you, but we just might be able to accomplish more than we think.  Her way was not in big things – but in small things done with great love.  That should be our way too.

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That letter you are about to write could make a huge difference in someone’s life – and in your own as well.  Service to others can become quite addictive because it leaves us with such good feelings. That person we perk up can go on to perk up others, and a beautiful chain of events can be activated.  We may never know the full extent of what our kind letters have accomplished until we get to heaven, but once there we’ll know and we’ll have to look up Mother Teresa there and tell her how she inspired us – not to fuss writing big things, but rather humble little letters filled with great love.

Every day can be Valentines Day if we write love letters.

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Forget the numbers. It’s the one-to-one that matters.

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Are you on Facebook?  It certainly is the rage these days.  Post something and it’s out there for all the world to see.  Though Facebook is definitely pretty amazing, I prefer my correspondence to be more personal, one-to-one. I suppose there are times when we want to reach many people at once.  Perhaps we have general information to share, then Facebook is great, but life seems sweeter to me when I’m turning acquaintances into real friends by reaching out to them one by one.

Real friendship requires a certain amount of intimacy and writing a letter is one great way to create that intimacy with another person.  A hand written letter is also a genuine modern-day luxury because it offers us the chance to slow down, sit still for a while and be reflective.

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I’m not the only one who prefers ‘the personal touch’.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta, one of my “dead friends”, was a great advocate for life with ‘the personal touch’.  Teresa said, “Forget the numbers.  It’s the one-to-one that matters.  Be kind in words.”  I’m always pleased when bona fide saints happen to agree with me, and I like to think I’m actually continuing Mother Teresa’s work here on earth for though I may not always be there for the sick and dying as she was, I sometimes am.

I try to send get well cards with encouraging letters tucked inside to those who are ill and I write letters to people in hospice.  One of my favorite cousins received my daily letter during the seven weeks she was in hospice.  Susan, who happened to be one of my  favorite pen friends, wasn’t up for in-person visits, but hopefully my daily letter visits were able to show her I cared without disturbing her.  This was my way to  brighten her last days just a little bit.  Her daughter Stephanie would sit by Susan’s bedside and read my letters too, and now Stephanie, who never had been into letter writing herself,  is  now keeping in touch with me by letter as her mother did.  I think Susan would like that.

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Sharing little personal things (all sorts of them) along with a little bit of love, can enrich our life and the lives of others.  I love to cook and bake, but I know not everyone loves these activities so I wouldn’t share my favorite recipes with all my letter friends, only with the cookers and bakers.  These foodies will also share their favorite recipes with me and this sharing is great fun for us!  Are you a cooker or baker? If you are you might like the recipe my pen friend Wendy passed on to me.  Wendy lives in Michigan and though her daughter went to The University of Michigan and one of my sons went to Ohio State University, we still manage to be friendly letter friends.  (In case you don’t know, these two schools are fierce rivals.)  Wendy’s recipe for an  Asparagus-Ricotta Tart sounds good to me and I bet it looks great too with the asparagus spears decorating its top.  It seems quite simple and easy and I’m happy to share it with you should you be interested in cooking:

ASPARAGUS-RICOTTA TART

Pour mixture of 15 oz. ricotta cheese, 4 eggs, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup milk, salt and pepper into a 10 inch non-stick oven safe skillet.  Top with asparagus spears, trimmed to fit and bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.  This recipe serves four people,or one very hungry person.

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A letter can change your life
Speaking of foodies and sharing through letters, I would like to share a blog post written on January 14, 2012 by cookbook author Susan Branch.  Susan says a letter changed her life.  She writes:

“A long time ago when I was told that my first book was going to be published, I was beside myself with shock and happiness.  I hadn’t met Joe yet, [her husband] I didn’t have Martha and Lowely [her cats I think] in my life; I knew very few people on the island, [Martha’s Vineyard] so I was alone, jumping up and down in my kitchen when it happened, getting on the phone, screaming for joy into the ears of my parents and friends in California! [because as you know sharing doubles the joy]  But that even pales (slightly) to what happened a few months after the book came out.  It was a day I’ll never forget… a freezing January afternoon.  I’d gone to the post office to pick up my mail, parked my old green Volvo in front of a grey snow bank and left the engine (and the heater) running.  I picked my way over dirty parking-lot ice, through the glass doors of the post office;  it seemed like just a normal winter day;  I was feeling a little isolated and alone on the island, freezing, dark, grey, wintry Martha’s Vineyard.  I was still a relatively new transplant, a stranger in a strange land.  When I got back to the car, I flipped through my mail and saw a pale blue envelope with a return address I didn’t recognize, written in an unfamiliar handwriting.  It made me curious, of course, so I opened it right away.  It was a letter from a woman I didn’t know telling me, in the most beautiful words imaginable, how much my book (“Heart of the Home”) meant to her.  I couldn’t believe it; I sat there in the snow and cried tears of gratitude.  Suddenly, my world had changed ;  I wasn’t isolated!  I wasn’t alone!  My heart overflowed with happiness;  I clutched that letter to me, would have hugged it if it was bigger!  It had never occurred to me ever that someone might take the time to write and tell me they liked my book. IT CHANGED MY LIFE.”

See?  I’m not kidding when I say a personal letter can change your life or the life of someone else.

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Letters are intimate sharing much like the sharing of secrets being whispered to another.
 Our world is getting so impersonal.  People in the same room will prefer to text rather than speak to one another.  In days gone by people might not have had texting and email, but they had more in-person visitation.  How many people have dropped over to your house for a personal visit recently, perhaps with a pretty bouquet of flowers? How many people have recently invited you for an intimate dinner at their house?  How many people have you invited over for afternoon tea?  Face to face communication in the home was common years ago.  Secrets were shared.  Ideas were exchanged.  News was reported in person.  One-to-one communication was at its best!

Visiting, dinner parties, afternoon teas, all lovely social traditions, and I’m all for bringing these traditions back into style.  When people of the past could not get together in person the next best thing was to hand write a personal letter.  Well, the good news is, though we have all sorts of modern communication today it is still possible, and most delightful, to partake in these old world ways.  These things are delightful because they involve the human touch.

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Just as candlelight remains a romantic alternative to electric light, or as a wood-burning fireplace creates superior ambiance to a gas heater, a hand written personal letter, created by one person to one person, remains a great way to foster intimacy in a relationship.  Writing a letter is a great way to show someone we’re thinking of them and we care about them.  I’m sure Mother Teresa would agree, for unlike Facebook, in letter writing we forget the numbers and reach out to one soul at a time.  If we add great love to our letters, well, that’s all the better.

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So go find some paper,  a pen, and write a letter to someone you care about.  Make it personal.  Make it pretty.  “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart”.  That’s William Wordsworth’s advice, mine too, and I bet Mother Teresa would third that advice as well.  Just do it!  You’ll be glad you did and so will the lucky recipient of your letter.

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A letter from Michelle

So, as my pen friend Michelle of Washington D.C. recently wrote, ” That is all for now. Hope we can keep the Post Office busy from now on.  Until the next time, I’ll put a pot of tea on and think of you.”