July 11, 2012

Warning! Be Careful What You Put In Writing!

From our friends at The Great Courses:

"Great writing begins -- and ends -- with the sentence.  Whether two words ("Jesus wept," John 11:35) or 1,287 words (a sentence in William Faulkner's Absalom! Absalom!), sentences have the power to captivate, motivate, educate, and, most importantly, delight."

Writing is power (you're reading this written blog, aren't you?).  And YOU have that power!  Whether it's a condolence or thank you note to a friend, a letter to your congressman or local newspaper, or a short story submitted for publication, the written word -- your written word -- has the potential power to live on for eternity and affect people in ways you might never even have imagined.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I shared the following true story with a friend:

Once upon a time, when I was gainfully employed, I had the privilege of serving in an official fund raising capacity for my high school alma mater, Mount de Sales Academy, a magnificent, all-girls, Visitation, Catholic school, now run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia.  Over time, I became close with a major donor, Mr. William Carrigan, who quite literally and figuratively "saved" the school, along with others, during the 1980s, a critical time in the academy's survival.  This humble man had been a close associate of Padre Pio during World War II, and I initially had type-written Mr. Carrigan a perfunctory thank you note on school stationery, to express my appreciation after one of our first-ever meetings.

Many summer afternoons, many years, many dinners, many hand-written thank you notes, many laughs, and finally many tears later, I happened to meet this fine gentleman's grown nephew from out-of-state, who had been charged with dispatching Mr. Carrigan's estate and cleaning out his house.

"I know you!" he gasped, as he pointed at me one day after Mass.  I froze, panicked, quickly scrolling through the mental rolodex of my recent misdeeds.  He smiled broadly, reached out, introduced himself, and enthusiastically pumped my hand in a warm handshake.  "You're Maria!"

Forced to admit that it was I, I then found myself deeply humbled by his next words.

In cleaning out the house of his deceased uncle, who in his old age had been quite an accomplished accumulator, they had found among the (literally) mountains of papers my letter, my original, de rigueur, formal letter, with its hand-written, fountain pen, post-script at the bottom (which one signs and writes in genuine ink to prove to the recipient this is not a machined correspondence -- there's your Free Fund Raising Tip Of The Day).

"You know, Uncle Bill kept that letter," his nephew said, which I found unsurprising and of little merit to me, as I had been in Mr. Carrigan's house enough times to know that (unfortunately, like me) he probably kept everything.  But his nephew went on to relate that the place where his uncle had kept it, as well as other things I had sent him throughout the years, had inspired them to pack the letter away carefully with a small selection of his uncle's things, which they had decided to keep.

Obviously, their primary motivation was Mr. Carrigan's deep love for Mount de Sales, exemplified through his gifts, among other things, of a whole new roof and The Padre Pio Library.  But, I immediately was struck by the lasting impact that had been made over a decade later by a single sheet, compulsory letter which, to be honest, was one of hundreds I had written during my career.

How deeply, deeply humbling to think that some simple words I had written, certainly in earnest at the time, would resurface to affect someone else's life, unintentionally, years later!

The lesson for us all here, I think, is to remember that everything we send forth from ourselves -- be it words, deeds, acts of service, kindnesses, or sadly even transgressions -- is like a pebble thrown into the pond.  It will have some lasting effect.  There will be concentric and ever expanding spheres of influence affected by your action.

You might not see or know of it at the time, or ever, but your action might have changed the course or focus of someone's life, even if only for a moment.

How amazing is that!?

How utterly powerful, and what an enormous responsibility, it is to recognize that our every interaction with those around us might change them in some way.

Haven't you heard the axiom, "People might not remember exactly what you did or said, but they'll always remember how you made them feel,"?  Or this one, "Always leave a person or place better than when you found it,"?

As a mother of wee folk, I am sharply aware of this, particularly when I am having a fabulous day!  ....or a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  I might quickly forget what I just said or did on Thursday, but for the other person or child involved, I might -- for good or for ill -- have just created a lasting memory!

I think Mother Teresa mastered this.  She is quoted everywhere and in hundreds of ways as stating that she always focused on the person before her as Christ incarnate.


Am I that generous?


Do I really see the image and likeness of God before me when I stumble upon my two year old merrily flooding the hardwood kitchen floor with an inch of water from the sink sprayer (no, I am not kidding)?  Am I really working to know, love, and serve God in this world when I am complaining about my kids and facetiously calling them, "my little near occasions of sin"?

God has put us on this earth and enabled us with many powers, not the least of which is our free will.  And when we exercise our free will in writing -- whether screen-based or by hand -- we can bring someone lasting consolation or lasting pain.

Resolve today to make your next written correspondence one of good cheer, faith-filled encouragement, or Scriptural inspiration.  Surprise someone with a bit 'o love in his or her mailbox.  Take all of five minutes -- truly, that's all you'll need!  Some of you sit at stoplights that long! -- to write someone something positive, something cheerful, something that will bring a smile.

You don't have to be witty nor brilliant.  You don't have to be Shakespeare.  Just grab a pen, scratch out two or three sentences of your own thoughts, then slap a stamp on it and let the United States Postal Service do the rest!

(Plus, when you live out in the country, our mail lady brings things like candy and homegrown zucchini, too!)

Remember Who made you: God made you.  Why did God make you?  God made you to know, love, and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.

So, go make someone else happy and perhaps, just perhaps, inspire that person to want to come along with you on a journey to heaven, too!

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