It’s Lent season. And, as a good Catholic who works in a good Catholic school, I have to confess. Now, I’ve already confessed that I haven’t been running. Already publicly confessed that I eat Charleston Chews for breakfast, Milk Duds for lunch, and, heck, I’ll confess that I just ate the package of cookies that I brought home for my husband.
But, this confession is a bit different. As a writer, blogger, and professional “email while breastfeeding” technology fanatic, I love to write. I love seeing my words on the screen — backspacing, clicking, pasting, deleting, posting.
My confession: I am a terrible letter writer.
Let me edit that last statement (classic writer, naturally). I’m a great letter writer; I’m a terrible letter sender.
When one of my favorite students left for a 2 year commitment in Guinea, West Africa, I wrote her a letter. I wrote about how proud I was of her beginning this new and important journey in her life. I inked that she was making a difference in our world. I joked about how she would have to give up email, text messaging, and the comfort of electricity in general. But, most of all, I wrote that I will write her often.
The other day, that student showed up in my office. She had been gone two years. The letter was still sitting in a pile on my desk. In fact, a few letters that I had written to her were sitting on my desk. Here is my pattern: write the letter, seal the letter, address the letter … forget to mail the letter. <<Time passes.>> Write a new letter, seal a new letter, address a new letter … forget to mail the letter. <<Repeat>> I never end up sending the original letter because, by then, the news or information is out of date. “Merry Christmas, Astrid” would arrive around “Happy Easter, Astrid.” Over the past 2 years, I have at least 4-5 letters for this student. I never sent a single one. I also never anticipated that this pattern would be so ingrained that she would actually show up — nearly 2 years from the day she left — and I would still have those letters.
This happens, unfortunately, far too often. One of the Camp Counselors at my daughter’s camp has written her a few times. Because my daughter doesn’t have email (she’s 6 years old), I’ve encouraged people to write handwritten letters to her. This Counselor has done so, and of course, in her letters she asks questions. I have sat down with my daughter to write letters in return. We write them. Seal them. Address them… and I find them in the bottom of my work bag .. months later. I eventually just Facebooked that counselor so that my daughter could write to her electronically.
But email and electronic communication is an easy way out. I admit it. Writing a handwritten letter means finding paper, a pen that works, an envelope, and, yes, a stamp. It means sitting down, thinking (no delete button, right?), and writing legibly. It takes thought. It takes action. Long after my actual thoughts have been put on paper, I still need to think about the person and follow through with the mailing. With email, I seriously don’t know who I’ve emailed in a given day. I must write 50 emails a day, and I couldn’t begin to recall who they all were … I think I’ve written 5 letters all year, and I can definitely remember each letter and each topic.
My husband and I have been “sponsors” for two children in different African countries for the past 5 years. Every so often (usually around the holidays), we receive letters from them. Now, you would think that I would actually follow through with these letters — beautiful children, wanting to hear correspondence from their U.S. sponsor, likely they don’t get a whole lot of mail. Again, there are stacks of un-mailed letters stuffed with stickers and bookmarks for these little kids. I confess. I rarely mail them.
For the past week now, a letter has been in my bag. It’s stuffed with the remainders of some prints that I had made to honor my friend who was battling cancer. As I was cleaning my office this weekend (hence, finding stacks of unmailed letters), I decided to put these prints into an envelope. I wrote a quick letter telling my friend and his wife that I’ve been praying for them. I began to seal the letter and stopped.
I reached into my purse, pulled out $40, and attached a PostIt note saying, “It’s not much, but I hope you can use this to treat yourself to something yummy! You deserve it!” I was hoping maybe he and his wife would go out for ice cream, buy some chocolate, or buy a lottery ticket. Maybe they would take their 2 small children to a fast food restaurant or buy some Easter candy.
I planned on mailing that letter on Monday. I planned on mailing that letter on Tuesday. Today is Wednesday, and I planned on mailing it when I had a quick break at work.
At 2:03pm, my husband called me. “Have you checked your email, Liza?”
“No,” I replied. “I’ve been so swamped, and I was hoping to sneak out to the Post Office to mail something. What’s up?”
“Richard died. He died this morning.”
I hung up the phone. I reached into my bag. I took out the letter and held it in my hands. “Richard and Becky Matthew”, it read.
I hadn’t mailed the letter.
I held the letter to my chest and took a deep breath. Then, I cried. I cried for Becky and her small children. I cried for the loss of my friend. I cried for the struggle he endured both with his own cancer survivor child, and then his own battle with cancer. I cried for his decision, every day, to choose life despite being terminally ill for more than a year. I cried for the battle he won over cancer.
Richard won his battle with cancer. If winning means he is no longer in pain, no longer in treatment, no longer suffering, and no longer wondering what will happen, then Richard won. He now gets to be all of those things. By leaving his body and, in my own belief, being with God, Richard won. I picture a strong Richard. I picture a smiling Richard. I picture a Richard who has a full head of hair, happy eyes, full cheeks, and some fat on his body. I picture a healthy Richard. I picture a Richard who can breath easier and have the energy to watch over his young family. I picture Richard at karaoke night at Camp Sunshine, singing “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, life goes on, ya! Come on baby life goes on!”
Peace be unto you, Richard. Strength and comfort be provided for you, Becky. And may memories, the legacy, and the love of your dad be with you Toby and Tracey. We will miss him, and we will always carry him in our hearts.