My father wrote me a letter before he died. He was 44 and knew he wasn’t going to make it to 45. Though very weak from illness and treatments that go along with having cancer, he wanted to say something of value to his children. Knowing that he wouldn’t be there for us anymore, I imagine he wanted to say the one thing he could, to each of us, that would help us for the rest of our lives. I’ve read that letter countless times since my mother gave it to me; carrying it with me now for 31 years – it has always reminded me of his belief. He said, “Right now in life, you are pretending to be a goof off. But I know that one day you will do something great that will set you among the very best.”
His faith-filled charge was not a parental request; he wasn’t just hoping; it was his prediction. Going through the rest of my life knowing that he believed it about me gave me permission to believe it about myself. Since the day I first read his words (at 12 years old) they have been with me; in the soulful heart of my subconscious and tucked neatly on my bookshelf. As I was certain that he loved me, I was also certain that my life would be extraordinary. All of that belief – conveyed to me through a few softly spoken words on a page – has made me into a true believer in letters.
Letters are physical things, with color, and tone, and the weight of the paper. They make more real the words that are written on them. Their existence in a drawer, or an envelope, or in a book give those to whom they are written a reminder of the love held by the one who wrote them. They are something that has to be moved when you do; they are things that require remembering and are always there, so long as you don’t lose them. They can’t be relegated to your mind alone like something you heard; you have to carry them with you. To the recipient they are a moment of your time and thought that could only have been about them. Letters – on paper, written in your hand, – make the reader rightly believe that for the briefest of times, they were the most important thing in the world to you. Nothing else can do that.
It’s time to start writing my own letters to my children and to my friends. It is time for all of us to start writing. We shouldn’t wait. The things we have to say to them, which we keep to ourselves are there; just beneath our breath, hiding in the ink of a pen. They are waiting to find homes on a page and to become something our children will carry and unlike the hugs and words of encouragement we so freely give – I believe our letters will last forever.
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