Dear Someone, Love Me

What do you say to comfort a stranger?

How do you offer someone you’ve never met an authentic piece of your heart?

I’m a Masshole; I know what to say to strangers: “USE YOUR GODDAMN BLINKAAHHH YA MORON.” But this, I suspect, is not what the person who is struggling, grieving, lurching their way through a swamp of pain and hardship wants to hear. It’s, apparently, not what idiot drivers want to hear either. Terrible drivers need our compassion too (though they rarely deserve it), it’s just that they don’t motor around broadcasting their need, flashing their desire for empathy with every flick of the turn signal.

Maybe they should. Maybe we all should. At least that’s what Hannah Brencher believes and one of the reasons that compelled her (and make no mistake, when you feel called to pin your soul to the soul of someone else’s, someone you’ve never met, compulsion is the nicest thing your friends and family call it) to start More Love Letters (MLL). Hannah is a stoopidly fantastic writer and incredibly gracious, lovely human being. She’s accomplished so much in a short time, transformed so many lives, touched countless hearts, and painted the world a brighter shade of kindness that I don’t even mind that she’s practically an ultrasound, a truly evolved young woman lapping the rest of us still trying to figure out how to shift out of first or fifth or whichever gear is that tricky one. I only have respect and admiration for Mlle. Brencher. This shaggy rock is a better place for her being on it.

So. More Love Letters. The gist is simple and not so simple: pen a letter, a for reals-paper-n-ink-n-envelope-n-stamp letter, to someone who needs a little or a lot of love, encouragement, cheer leading, nerve-smoothing, or some straight up human interation. People nominate others to receive letters and every month the fine people at MLL post four or five “letter requests.” You get a name, a short description of why they could use some light in their life and lift in their P.O. box, and instructions on where to send your letter. Simple and not so simple.

I signed up to be a part of the MLL crush-a-thon a year ago hunkered down in the depths of a particularly punishing winter. I thought it might be just the trick to raise me out of my emotional hibernation, to spark a bit of flame in the lives of others. Each month the emails sat in my inbox, read but not acted upon, taunting me, shaming me, sounding suspiciously like my softball coach after I had faked terrible period cramps to get out of one too many games: “I knew this wasn’t exactly for you.” Ouch. Fair enough.

And maybe at that time—that winter, a year ago–I just wasn’t ready to step up and give what was required of me, I don’t think I was showing up for my own life in any remarkable way, I obviously wasn’t much use to anyone else. And I think, if I’m being completely honest, I was a little afraid.

This summer I felt the Nudge to try again. Lovely Readers take note: When the Nudge comes, you heed it, lest you want that Nudge to become a body check. I was feeling pulled, tugged every so lightly on my sleeve, to reach outside of myself in some way.

Tug, tug….Can we take a break from the navel gazing?

Tug, tug…Could you spare some of that compassion and kindness for someone else? It might, I don’t know, be kinda cool.

Tug, tug…WRITE THE DAMN LOVE LETTERS ALREADY BECAUSE IT WILL MAKE THEM FEEL AMAZING AND YOU FEEL PRETTY GODDAMN GOOD TOO!

I began again. I bought lovely stationary and a fresh book of stamps (I was making someone’s day better AND single-handedly keeping the post office open. Me? A hero? Oh, shucks now….). I broke out my fancy pen, the one my dear friend from California sent me for Christmas, the one that’s marbled in blue and green and feels heavy in your hand, the one that makes you “feel like a REAL writer.” I was ready. I was still afraid.

Because what do you say to comfort a stranger?

How do you offer someone you’ve never met an authentic piece of your heart?

It’s not that I thought I would get it wrong. Even the most awkward and thin “You seem like a nice person. Best of luck!” would probably be received in an open manner. It was the pressure I felt as I paused with pen over paper. This suddenly felt like a big responsibility. You get a brief description of what the person is dealing with: Ben just lost his father and is really struggling; Sasha’s mother is going back to school after twenty years and feeling really nervous about starting over; Tabitha is trying to beat her eating disorder and it becomes a tentative walk on the rails between genuine sentiment and platitudes robbed of their power by mugs, tee-shirts, and kicky tote bags. It becomes, very quickly, in a very real way, very much not about you. And yet you’re entrusted with this person’s ooey-gooey-heart and soul. You’re a temporary steward of their happiness and hope. Is this what being a parent feels like?

Write what you feel, came the Nudge.

Dear Ben, Sometimes life just sucks royally.

Okay, um, that’s a good start, but maybe not so, you know, SO you

Everyone’s a critic. Okay. Dear Ben, When things seem hopeless…

Really? Are we having a real moment of connection or are we writing a fucking fortune cookie? C’mon now

Ouch. Fair enough.

Dear Ben, I’m sorry to hear you are struggling and so sorry for your loss. I want nothing more than for you to see how loved you are, how many people care for you and are here to lift you up and ease your pain. You, my friend, are one lucky sonofabitch.

 

Because what do you say to comfort a stranger?

I ask right back: What would you want to hear? How would you want to know that as alone as you feel, as terrible is the spinout that you just can’t seem to recover from, as bleak is the view from where you stand, you’re still part of something bigger, something grander, and something more full of love—love for you–than the walls of the Grand Canyon can hold?

Whatever that is, write that and then feel it even more.

letters

 

 

 

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