Sunday, February 19, 2017

Letters - Annabel and A Former President

When my 101-year-old long-time friend Annabel died in late December 2016, she left me a stack of correspondence that spanned thirty-three years. Annabel valued the permanency of the written word in many ways.

For example, Annabel and her husband, Grover, kept a guest book on their coffee table in the living room. Before family or visitors left, they were invited to sign and date their presence. Even little children who could barely write their names were included. The Hartmans valued all people who entered their home.

Exchanging letters was a way Annabel and I liked to communicate. In the short talk I gave at her memorial service on January 28, I recalled how even when we lived in the same town and the two of us could talk on the phone or visit, we still exchanged letters. Writing to each other was one of the foundations of our friendship, one that offered me an opportunity to preserve the wisdom, encouragement, and perceptions on life that Annabel gave.

Presidents Like Letters 

A few presidents read and responded to letters from constituents as a regular practice, including Barack Obama, who read ten letters a day from the multitude of mail that reaches the White House every day. Staffers carefully chose the letters that the former president read and responded to each night after dinner.

Obama describes the value of letters in an interview from the Sunday magazine section of The New York Times on January 22, 2017: “Constituents feel like you are hearing them, and that you are responding to them – that makes up for a lot of stuff. That kind of instilled in me the sense of – the power of mail. And people knowing that if they took the time to write something that the person who represented them was actually paying attention.”

The article continues:

“[T]he letters gave me permission to legitimately slow down, an opportunity for nuance and contradiction. I didn’t understand how meaningful it would end up being to me.”  
“By the time I got to the White House and somebody informed me that we were going to get 40,000 or-whatever-it-was pieces of mail a day, I was trying to figure out how do I in some way duplicate that experience I had during the campaign. And I think this was the idea that struck me as realistic. Reading ten letters a day – I could do that.” 

Barack Obama concluded, “I tell you, one of the things I’m proud of about having been in this office is that I don’t feel like I’ve lost myself.” He said, “I feel as if – even if my skin is thicker from you know, public criticism, and I’m wiser about the workings of government, I haven’t become …cynical, and I haven’t become callused. And I would like to think that these letters have something to do with that.”

Even the former president valued the communication he received from the American people represented in the ten letters he read each day.

Abiding Love 

I miss Annabel so much and can’t believe she is gone, even after living 101 years. I thought she would live forever.

At the memorial service, I showed those gathered my stack of letters bound by a tan string. “Here is a stack of many letters I received from Annabel. They are pieces of her that I can access whenever I want a ‘visit’ or need to ‘hear’ her voice again.”

A few days later, I randomly chose a card to read, dated November 5, 2009. She signed the card, “Abiding love, Annabel.” Looking up the definition of abide, I found: to remain, continue, stay. Although Annabel isn’t here anymore her love for me abides always.



For Your Reflection – 

Is there someone to whom you would like to write a letter, perhaps offering encouragement, sharing thoughts or recounting what is happening in your life? Take some time to get a piece of paper, a pen and envelope, and offer your recipient a treasure of communication.

Have you received letters in the past that have particular value? How do you cherish the person who wrote?

Prayer: Thank you, God, for ways we record our sentiments and thoughts on paper. This lost art of communication has permanence allowing us to read and re-read what has been expressed. Allow us to make room and time to record our thoughts and offer pieces of ourselves that others can refer to forever. Amen.

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