Some of my favorite reads are those personal letters captured within a page in history. Recently I read one that a father sent to his son who was off studying at college. It made me wonder if I had the wisdom and insight it took to send something as thoughtful and caring as his message? Could I capture something truly meaningful and send that advice to my son while he is in college? Or would I only ask him how the football game was last Saturday?
And I really enjoy those letters exchanged between historical figures in the midst of great change, chaos or conflict. Like a letter from a solider in World War II back to his parents to describe the indescribable fear and courage of battle. Like a letter from John Adams to his wife describing the pain of decisions that would alter lives forever. Like a letter from a prisoner of war not regretting he will miss the birthdays of his children but regretting that the world could be so screwed up and beyond his view of hope and wishing he had one more chance to make a difference.
It was when I was re-reading an exchange with a friend a week or so ago that I grasped the real importance of these personal exchanges. And it is not the oral conversations that happen in passing and are forgotten. It is an actual written exchange that becomes memorialized. An exchange that lives and is there for us to go back to daily . . . a written exchange that haunts us, challenges us and inspires us. Here was our friendly exchange:
Me: Wow! Lindsey and I (along with her friend) had an experience at the 50th Anniversary March. We were the bus that was featured in the AJC — leaving from the Cobb NAACP. I attached a photo below. The bus ride was uncomfortable (as it should have been). It made us think about the real uncomfortable bus rides that the Freedom Riders took. We made friends with folks we never would have otherwise even met in this life. We saw causes/concerns we never considered at in-depth levels.
The Mall was full of sights and sounds. I was amazed at the passion of folks who came to express concern for their cause. And there were a multitude of causes. Our country hurts. We have great pains. As a citizen, we cannot continue to ignore the hurt and the searching for freedom that goes on in the lives of our fellow citizens. We need a common cause again. We need a great revolution of the mind not of the computers. Our country is driven too much to be computer and accounting efficient. We need relationships. We need real interaction and real lives.
Friend: Your comments about this past weekend reflect the soul of someone who was deeply touched. That you could share such an experience with Lindsey is something each of you will always remember and cherish.
You are absolutely right that, as a country and as a society that likes to believe it’s the world’s leader, we cannot ignore the hurt in our midst. We need to turn our focus off of ourselves and onto others. I recently read about a study that showed the happiest, most fulfilled individuals were those who acted on behalf of others. The self-absorbed were among the unhappiest. I don’t think that is accidental. I believe it is in our DNA to care for each other. Yet, somehow, some way we’ve allowed our society to alter that very natural message. Perhaps taking ourselves back to our natural instincts may be that ‘common cause’ to which you refer.
Me: There is a documentary called “Happy.” It is on NetFlix. You gotta watch it. Your words are exactly on point. When we care about others and help others, we are the happiest. It even talks about a country (Bhutan, I think) that has a Minister of Happiness or something like that. I believe they talk about the giving concept as being key (I could be mixing my documentaries and my books).
There is also a book called “How full is your bucket.” It has the premise that we get more by giving than we do by taking. I still serve from 6 to 10 on Tuesdays at the shelter. I have never been happier. Maybe I am a test case!
So what is my point? Very simple. Engage in a dialogue with someone today on something that matters . . . something of significance. Don’t ask them if they watched some dang reality television show and what they thought about it. Talk about real reality not Hollywood reality. Do it in a written form. Maybe send them a letter and wait expectantly on their reply. Don’t send some telephone text message. Those feel and serve more like passing conversations. At a minimum, make it an email and commit to save it and think about.
Why am I being so dogmatic about the form of your conversation? Simple. The more you commit to the form, then the more serious and thoughtful you will be about what you say. That is why letters sent by a father to his son in college are still read today. That is why letters sent by John Adams to his wife from Philadelphia as he worked on our Constitution are still read today. They took time. They took thought. They required something from your heart.
And ironically, when we start exchanging at that level with each other, then we will have widened the Mall from DC to our communities. Why should we exchange ideas only on a grassy Mall in Washington DC? Why can’t we do it one letter, one person and most importantly, one relationship at a time?