I do not receive many personal letters anymore. Emails have, by and large, replaced them. But, unhappily, the missives that pass through my computer soon make their way into cyberspace and then on to oblivion. They will never be candidates for nostalgia.
The important personal letters I have received, via snail mail, record a significant aspect of my history of human relations. Somehow, like wine, they seem to improve with age. Recently, I re-read a letter mailed to me in 1984. It allowed me to re-live a cherished experience, one that, I believe, is worth relating to the world.
I was on a flight from Louisville, Kentucky to Chicago, Illinois. My co-passenger, thanks to a most fortuitous seating assignment, was a most attractive young lady. As the plane lifted skyward, I pointed to Churchill Downs, the celebrated home of the Kentucky Derby that now lay a few hundred feet below. “I know,” was her polite response, “I have a horse and enjoy riding.” It was an awkward beginning, perhaps, but broke the ice and led to a more personal and revealing exchange.
People can be surprisingly candid on air-flights. My new acquaintance revealed that when she was seventeen and pregnant out of wedlock, medical personnel and several of her adult friends advised abortion. They intimated that being saddled with a child would be the “end” of her life. She told me about a poem she wrote that represented how she worked through her difficult decision in favor of life. Her advisors, she concluded, were misleading her. The choice she had to make was not about the end of life but a beginning.
Neither of us wanted to terminate our relationship with the termination of our flight. We exchanged letters. I had asked her if she could send me her poem. She complied. Although she felt that her literary effort was “not professional by any means,” I judged it differently. Coming from the province of the heart, it made her, in my view, a poet laureate. I recited it subsequently at a pro-life banquet talk in her neighboring state of Tennessee.
My life I did review
At that point changes were needed I knew
There’s so much out there for us to see
And so much of me that needs to be.
I know it must be done on my own
Sometimes though, I’m frightened of being alone
This is going to be my big task
But of Life, this I have to ask
They all say it’s not a beginning, it’s the end
But I see it a different way my friend
I’ll do it so I’ll never again have to run
At least I’ve started, we’ve begun.
It has been said the “poetry is a beautiful way of remembering what it would impoverish us to forget.” I will not forget a certain teenager’s courage and faith to give birth to a child in the face of fierce opposition. She regards her daughter as “truly my gift from God, who has taught me love, unselfish giving, trust, hope and most of all my child has saved my soul for life with God forever.” While so many people these days regard a child as a burden, my friend saw her daughter as not only a blessing, but a Godsend who was even instrumental in saving her soul. She chose a twin beginning by affirming the start of her child’s life and the dawn of her own motherhood. This is the very meaning of conception. At the Annunciation, Mary accepted both the beginning of Christ’s life as a human being and the beginning of her own maternity.
The years have flown by. We have lost touch. I sometimes wonder how she and her daughter have fared. She closed her letter promising to keep me and my family in her prayers and signed it “co-passenger from Louisville to Chicago”. I like to think that we are co-passengers from earth to heaven.
I sent her a copy of a book I wrote, entitled, The Shape of Love. She reported having enjoyed it and being “refreshed by reading how we all truly need to love and be loved.” I think that God was also a co-passenger on that flight. God sends thousands of people into our lives. As well, we are sent into the lives of countless others. They and we can be momentary ambassadors of His Love. And although we may not know the ultimate outcomes of our providential meetings, we can leave the accounting to God and await the happy results which will be revealed in the next life.