November 4, 2010


Sitting down to lunch yesterday, I pulled out one of my magazines and read an article about the power of letter writing…not e-mails but the pen to paper kind.  One of the stories was about a frazzled, 32 year-old pregnant mother of two who received a faded envelope from her alma mater, Emory University. It was addressed to her parents’ home and used her maiden name. Naturally, when her mother forwarded the letter, the woman was puzzled. Not till she opened it did she remember how it came to be written. Ten years earlier, her psychology instructor asked his students to write a letter to themselves ten years into the future. He promised to mail each of their letters when a decade had passed. The message inside, caused her to pause and take a breath. Here, in part, is what she had written to her future self:

                      Dear Sharon,

                                …if you’re reading this you must be 32.  Yikes!  That’s old. ….I hope you’re married with children  and a job in journalism or psychology. I’m not doing all this studying for nothing!  (Woman’s Day, November 1, 2010, pg. 32)

What a marvelous assignment the teacher had given. How wonderful to take stock in one’s life by remembering the dreams of one’s youth. As it happens, this letter writer didn’t disappoint herself though she received her missile at a point in her career when she felt worn to the bone. The letter revived her spirits as it reminded her she was living exactly as she had hoped.

I have had a similar experience. In my 70s, I picked up “Gothic Spring,the novel I’d begun in my 30s. As I reviewed those earlier pages, I realized a world view separated me from my former self. My opinions had softened over time. I’d become forgiving of myself and others and so when I rewrote the novel, I had greater compassion for my characters. I’m glad of that and so I decided to write a letter to my younger self.  I hope she will understand why I’ve failed her. 

                     Dear Caroline,

                                  I never became an astronomer.  I never had children. But I’ve taken great delight in my students and in my friends.

    I believe there is more good in the world than bad. I still have hope.  So don’t worry about me. I am happy.