The Letter

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”      Ralph Waldo Emerson

My non-verbal facial reaction and slightly audible ‘hmmm’ from our seats in the back row of the audience informs Carol, my wife, of my chagrin for the facilitation of this particular part of the marriage preparation weekend being presented by the other couple teaming with us.  Roger and Dottie are propounding instructions for a non-scheduled, unwelcomed outline change. Instead of the customary handouts with questions to answer in our notebooks, we are told to write a letter to someone who has impacted our lives. “Maybe, we never told them of the impact,” says Roger.   (Silently stewing, my reactionary response is who told him he could change the requisite national outline?!).  Carol glances at me – and she is really good at doing this – with her disapproving nod. (I avoid the stare which is quite effective in behavior modification).

Despite my irritation, I am committed to my role on the team,   so reluctantly cooperate, being very careful in not projecting disapproval of the altered presentation for the sake of the engaged couples who are following instructions as given.

Lucy Cavalier, my beloved maternal grandmother, is the recipient of this now historic letter writing effort. A saintly woman, by any standard, she has significantly impacted my life. Surprisingly, I have never told her what she has meant to me. Has this ever happened to you? Someone makes a huge difference in your life and yet through the rapid elapse of time, you just never tell them?  You arrive at this juncture, not from deliberate delay, but because of a very busy life. Now with a new compliant attitude, I dive into penning this special letter.

Two weeks roll by and I have forgotten about the letter. The phone rings, and when Carol answers, I hear my mother on the line. Instantly my thoughts focus on the message I wrote to Grandmother, who is living with my parents.  My spirits immediately soar as I think about the predictable positive response of my recent written message to her!  I am sure that Mom is calling to thank me. The call is about Grandmother . . . but not about the letter.  Lucy Cavalier has passed into eternal life this morning. Mom is crying as she relays the news to Carol and me.

During the 90-minute drive to Grandmother’s funeral in New Orleans, I can think of nothing else but the letter, wondering if Roger mailed all the letters as he promised everyone he would do following the retreat . . . did Grandmother receive it? Did Mom know about the letter?

The funeral service is over. Friends gather around other family members to comfort them. Finally, it is just Mom standing with me near the gravesite.  I have never seen her so sad.  The letter is still on my mind.

“Mom, I wrote a letter to Grandmother a couple of weeks ago. I wonder if she received and read it.”  Immediately I quickly surmise that I may have blundered. She is enveloped in unimaginable sorrow.  (Why could I have not waited until the reception or even a week from now!? Why did I have to get a response to my query during this moment of immense sadness?) Within a few seconds that seemed much longer, Mom speaks words that I will remember for the rest of my life.  With tears of enormous sadness, entwined with great joy, she says, “Robert, yes, Grandmother received your letter. It was so special for her. She hung onto that letter in the last week of her life!”   We hug tightly, remembering this great woman, Lucy Cavalier. Years from this moment, she will be honored and immortalized through our young granddaughter, Luci Picard – named after my mom, who was named after her mom . . . Lucy, Lucille and Luci.  Their influence continues to make a difference in my life.

What began as an irritation to the unexpected deviation in the seminar outline, followed by my resistant effort, has evolved full circle into an unforgettable moment. Sometimes what I resist later becomes what I embrace.  Does this ever happen to you? This initially disdainful experience now reminds me to practice open-mindedness – to look for changes I need and want to make in life.

The letter to Grandmother was not my last letter. I wrote others, and continue writing on occasion – some of my correspondence has had a huge impact on others within my sphere of relationships. What is now inexplicably surprising to me is how much I have been affected.  Each letter I write stands as a strong reminder of the influence of another person. I am blessed . . . very lucky. There exist numerous individuals who have impacted my life. Each letter encourages me to grow.  I want to change and become a better person because of the example of another to whom I write. The message I share with others in a letter often shines light on a quality that I really admire and want to emulate in my own life. I write to another but the message is for me too. It is interesting how this works.  Life is a circle and that circle is full of some really good things. Love is one of them.

I wish I could tell you that I am a carbon copy of my grandmother. Many witnesses who knew that special lady – those who surround me – know that in emulating her, I am a work in progress – a good work in progress and all because of that first letter and the letters that followed.

Who in your life has impacted you? Have you told them lately? Have you ever told them? Is there still time to write to this person?  At the time of my letter to Grandmother, I was unaware that only two weeks remained for her on earth.  How much time is left to tell significant people in your life what you need to tell them?  What you want to tell them. What you must tell them.  How much time is left?

“In today’s world, handwritten letters are becoming a lost art. They have been replaced by cell phones, texts and emails. But across all the myriad new technologies, people and their relationships still remain.  We are impacted by others and we impact others by how we live.  There remains great value in communicating the powerful messages of faith, hope and love. We are the authors who will find a way to communicate these messages and change the lives of others.  And in the process, we will change our own.”  (Excerpt from my first book, There are No Small Moments).

There are no small moments!