Letters help us Walk in the Beauty Way

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A letter for me?

William James, the 19th century American philosopher once said, “As long as there are postmen life will have zest” and I completely agree. It’s not that most postmen have such good looks and winning personalities. It’s that they are the ones who deposit delightful treats in my mailbox. Letters! Big ones, small ones, letters in all colors of the rainbow, with exotic postage stamps and cute little stickers. Ah! The pleasure of a letter addressed just to me. There’s practically a radiance to it.

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A rainbow in the sky
The other day I ran across a line by William Wordsworth.  He wrote,  “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky,” – a nicely turned phrase, but for me, it’s letters in my mailbox that make my heart skip a beat, leap up and dance for joy.

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Good mail!
It’s a sad day when my mail consists of nothing but catalogs, bills and material addressed ‘occupant’. Luckily, such days are rare for me because when you give (and I give) good things come back to you. I write a lot of letters so I receive a lot of letters in return. How many letters do you receive everyday? How many letters do you write every day? There’s a correlation, you know.

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Letters are wonderful, a physical art form and a great venue for social interaction. But besides that, when we write and receive letters we’re enriching our intellectual life for ideas expressed and discussed stimulate the mind and offer us food for thought. In letter conversations we can explore any number of subjects and in that exploration we can inspire others and be inspired ourselves. We can teach and we can learn.

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Make those letters as pretty as possible
Many of my letter friends delight me by sharing the passions dear to their hearts. Some of their passions are my passions too and discussing these favorite subjects is always great fun.   But I’m equally delighted  to hear about whatever makes people light up and come to life.  Life is what it’s all about and letters are a wonderful vehicle in which to reflect upon the life we lead.

Ah life!  We only have one life to lead, but as we meet and get to know a variety of people we can experience, like second hand smoke, a variety of passions.   Even if we don’t share these passions  we are broadened by our awareness of them.

My pen friend, Evelyna, not only shares my enthusiasm for The Art of Letter Writing, but she also shares my passion for The Art of Living. Evelyna “walks in the beauty way” as the Navajo would say.

Though modern life is busy for most of us, and sometimes stressful too, Evelyna and I are kindred spirits in that we try very hard to cultivate rituals which downplay the dreary aspects of  daily life.  We each make a point of stepping out of our work-a-day world at frequent intervals in order to rest, reflect, and focus on whatever beauty might be around us. Not everyone thinks of life as an art form in itself, but art it can be if we’re willing to become the artists of our lives. This requires effort, determination and attention to carefully cultivated rituals.  Evelyna and I enjoy sharing whatever rituals we invent.  Why?  You know.   Sharing doubles the joy.  And though the sharing of ideas is the prime glory of letters, the stationery we create for those letters does add an element of enchantment.  Consider this photo note which Evelyna whipped up for me:

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This Lady of Letters is lovely in Lavender
Evelyna’  celebrated her love of lavender by creating this photograph for her letter paper.  She decorated lavender paper with a portrait of herself wearing a lavender gown.  She added a garland of flowers and ribbons in her hair and posed holding a basket of flowers and baked goods. What fun she must have had creating this cover photo. You might think only 19th century ladies would be seen this way, but Evelyna is a 21st century Romantic.  Romantics might be rare these days, but they do exist.  I know because I am a Romantic too.

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Do you have any Romanticism in your blood? If you do, you would love a pen friend like Evelyna. Not only are her letters beautiful, but because they focus on the beauty of life they are very positive and uplifting.  Also, like any good letter writer, Evelyna makes a point of  showing her appreciation for her letter friends.  Finding one of her letters in my mailbox always has the power to put a smile on my face and a bounce in my step.

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One of Evelyna’s lovely letters
I’d like to share a bit of one of Evelyna’s letters with you.  Reading her words will help you understand why my heart leaps up when I behold one of her letters in my mailbox. Imagine this letter was coming to you.  She writes:

“…Do you know what I most enjoy about your letters?  Reading them seems to give me some moments of quiet respite from my interminable deadlines.  Although you are every bit as busy and productive as I am, your days and activities seem to move at a much more relaxed and leisurely pace.  You seem to have more freedom within your schedule to do things you love when you want to, which seems like such a luxury to me.  While reading your letters, I find a sense of slowing down within myself, like a 78 record being played on 33 rpm.  This is good for me.  Of course, it also helps that when I see a letter from you, I don’t just tear it open and start reading it.  I set it aside while brewing a cup of Earl Grey tea in a porcelain pot.  I then sit down in another room or in my garden, open the envelope with my art noveau letter opener, then revel in what you’ve written while sipping and dreaming and reading.  You see, once again, it’s all about creating a ritual, if only for five minutes.  It’s up to us to find moments of peace and beauty in our lives, and if they aren’t readily available, we must create them for ourselves.  On that note I will close with a word of appreciation for our friendship and a wish for moments of beauty throughout your day.

Love, Evelyna”

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p.s. from CarolAnn   Do you now understand why William James and I believe as long as there are postmen life will have zest?

Having a pen friend, a  kindred spirit, helps us focus on, and be true to, the way we want to live.  Articulating our ideas to each other helps us define and refine those ideas.  Sharing offers support and encouragement.

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Another beautiful letter from another beautiful kindred spirit
Whether we share information on our favorite subjects or discuss and describe favorite ideas, the writing, the reading, the musing over words contained in letters, stimulates our thinking and as a result, enriches our intellectual life. What subject would you love to discuss in letters?  There’s probably someone out there with the same desire. What are you waiting for? Find that person.  Join The Letter Exchange and start sharing.

                              http://www.letter-exchange.com

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.”