Writing letters

While we're staying at home, we can remember the positive power of words sending handwritten notes, making amends towards those we have become estranged from and seeking reconciliation from those persons we have hurt along life’s journey.

Several weeks ago, I woke up in a bad mood. I felt groggy and grouchy, and I didn’t want to get up and start the activities for the day.

I have a rather rigid routine that begins with exercise, personal hygiene, a cup of tea or coffee (no cream or sugar) and vegetarian breakfast. I do meditation, listen to the news, greet my caregiver and get down to work. On this particular day, I did not feel motivated to do any of these things; I just wanted to lie in bed and be lazy all day.

Then something told me I should read my emails. I called up my mail program and looked down the list of emails that I just received. I spotted a person’s name, and because this always creates curiosity, I wanted to read it first. Her name was Peggy, and I didn't know her personally.

She wrote that she had been reading my articles for quite a while and found them very helpful and inspiring. Further, she said that it had occurred to her to write me an email stating how much she enjoyed my articles, and how meaningful they had been to her.

As I read Peggy’s message I was aware of some deep changes that were taking place in me. My mood changed, I felt so much better and now I wanted to get on with my day because this lady had taken the time to send me a gift of kindness and caring.

She paid me a compliment that “made my day,” and, in that moment, everything changed for me. Please notice that this is a random act of kindness; she expected nothing in return, and if anything, she gave me a gift that keeps on giving as evidenced by my writing this article.

The lesson that I wish to emphasize here is the tremendous power that words can have when they are heartfelt and authentically shared with no ulterior motives for the giver.

For me, this is the fullest expression of “love” from one person to another. We often throw the word “love” around as if it were a Frisbee, never revealing exactly what we mean.

The Greeks had three words for love, each that specify a clear meaning of what the speaker intends when using the word “love.”

The three words were:

• Philos, meaning “brotherly love.” It’s where get our word Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. It also means “love of neighbor.”

• Eros, meaning sexual love. We get our word “erotic,” meaning “sexual,” from “eros.”

• Agape, meaning “unconditional love.” It’s a love that expects nothing in return. It is the word that Scripture uses to define God’s love for us.

I’m sure you can understand why our use of the word often lacks specificity. It allows the “lover” to make the “loved one” feel great without any commitment on the lover’s part.

Is it any wonder that the most used word in popular and country songs is love?

Returning to my original theme: “heartfelt words, spoken honestly, yield tremendous power.” It affects our emotions, feelings, thinking and actions.

When I was in graduate school, I served a little church in Louisa, Virginia. While there, I learned that Patrick Henry had a law practice in the town and, after he was elected to Congress, he invited all the townspeople to come to the square where he gave a speech ending with the statement, “Don’t change anything until I return!”

Many of my church members told me not to be surprised at the conservatism in the town, because everyone had listened to Patrick Henry, and nothing had changed since his time in Louisa — because he never returned.

Then there was Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry,” who would point his gun at the bad guy and say, “Make my day!” It shows you how powerful words can be.

I also think of statements like, “The pen is mightier than the sword!”

During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. I would encourage all of us to remember the power of words by reaching out to others with support and love, with encouragement and hope.

We should be doing the things that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, but, while we are at home in the coming months, remembering the power of words by sending handwritten notes, making amends towards those we have become estranged from and seeking reconciliation from those persons we have hurt along life’s journey.

None of these activities requires a lot of time, money or excuses; some may require courage, confession and a willingness to admit guilt and a willingness to accept responsibility for broken promises and embarrassing wrongs.

But, in the end, you may well make somebody’s day. And it won’t be like Dirty Harry, but much more like Peggy’s email to me.

Robert Olson is a pastoral psychologist and family therapist who specializes in geriatric issues. He invites comments and speaking invitations at robertolsonbdma@gmail.com.

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