I Love Letters!

by Melannie Svoboda SND on November 12, 2012

My Dear Friends,

I love letters! I fell in love with them at an early age. I was in seventh grade when I got my first foreign pen-pal. Her name was Carla and she lived in Milan, Italy. I remember the excitement of walking out to our mailbox and finding a letter from Carla. I loved her graceful handwriting and the pretty Italian stamps plastered all over the envelope. My second pen-pal was Visnja from Zagreb, Yugoslavia, followed by others in Japan, Singapore, Denmark, and South Africa. I wrote faithfully to these girls (and others closer to home) until I entered the convent in July 1962.

In the novitiate, incoming and outgoing mail was strictly controlled. Mail was distributed once a week—Sunday afternoons—except during Advent and Lent when no mail was allowed. When I was a novice, my mother wrote to me virtually every week. Her letters were filled with homey things about my father’s garden, her canning, our cats and dogs, my sister’s first pregnancy, and my brothers’ work and studies. Sometimes I reread those letters dozens of times. Often I cried. Even today in this age of email, voice mail, and texting, I still cherish getting a real letter in a real envelope written in a person’s real hand.

Why do I love letters so much? First, the arrival of a letter tells me that someone is thinking of me. Is there any greater compliment? And this person took the time to write a letter, address an envelope, lick a stamp, and mail it. Secondly, there’s something almost “immortal” about letters. They last. This means they can be read again and again—even years later. As the writer Liz Carpenter says, “You can’t reread a phone call.”

Another reason I love letters is because letters, like photographs, become more valuable with age. Samuel Butler says, “Letters are like wine; they ripen with keeping.” I still have a few letters from my parents. Just seeing their handwriting makes warms my heart and makes me appreciate them more than ever.

And just think how we’ve all been enriched by letters. Where would we be, for example, without all those letters (called epistles) in the Bible? What if St. Paul had said to Timothy, “I don’t have time to write a letter to those Corinthians. Just tell them I said hi.” I have always enjoyed reading the letters of famous people: Cicero, Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Thomas Merton, and St. Julie Billiart, foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame. I love the short stories by the great southern writer Flannery O’Connor, but guess what? I love her collection of letters even more! Right now I’m reading the letters of Dorothy Day, All the Way to Heaven edited by Robert Ellsberg. In these letters I see Dorothy struggling with relationships, faith, work, and the great social issues of her day. Her letters inspire me to face with courage the challenges of my own life and times.

What has been your experience with letters? Do you have any letters you cherish? Have you ever given the gift of a letter to your spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, friends? One of the best letters I ever wrote was to myself. I was on retreat and the director suggested it. I still have it tucked in my Bible and I reread it occasionally. More than once I’ve written letters addressed to God, Jesus, Mary, and St. Julie.

Today might be a good day to ask:  what role have letters played in your life? Thank you for reading this “letter” and may God bless you!

Love, Melannie

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol Dikovitsky November 12, 2012 at 9:26 am

God bless you, too, Melannie, for all the letters, articles and books you’ve written. When I come across a reflection you’ve written for “Give Us This Day,” I always come away with new food for thought.

Reply

Melannie Svoboda SND November 12, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Thank you, Carol! Your words mean much to me! Melannie

Reply

Dion November 12, 2012 at 9:41 am

I couldn’t agree more. Right now the letters I write most are to women in prison. I feel privileged to journey with these women who write so simply and openly about the movements of their hearts. For example one wrote, “Glory be to God for he has allowed me to come to such a place so my eyes, ears and heart could be open to truly, truly receive him.” I am humbled to SEE and feel God working in these beautiful women.
(PS to you – Tameka said I could use anything she has written for the benefit of others. Do pray for her. I also visited her in Marysville).

Reply

Melannie Svoboda SND November 12, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Dear Dion, I imagine your letters to them are greatly appreciated! Tameka’s words are amazing! We will all say a special prayer for her! Thanks for the beautiful way you minister to those women! You inspire me! Melannie

Reply

Ellen Svette Huntsman November 12, 2012 at 9:52 am

Amen, Sister Melannie. We must not loose the art of letter writing.

You’ve inspired me!

Blessings & Peace ~ +

Reply

Melannie Svoboda SND November 12, 2012 at 4:55 pm

I hope you wrote a letter to someone, Ellen! Thanks again for responding! Melannie

Reply

Annie November 12, 2012 at 11:36 am

Aren’t you glad texting wasn’t invented in St. Paul’s time! 🙂

Reply

Melannie Svoboda SND November 12, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Dear Annie,
Good point! I imagine if St. Paul could text, his letters to the Corinthians might be 3 “sentences” long! Melannie

Reply

maggie moore ssj November 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm

DEAR MELANNIE,
I,TOO, LOVE TO RECEIVE SNAIL-MAIL. MY PEN PAL MAUREEN(IN IRELAND) &I HAVE KEPT IN TOUCH SINCE SEPTEMBER 1952. 60 YEARS!!!!!
I VISITED HER TWICE, AND SHE AND HER HUSBAND AND 5 CHILDREN HAVE VISITED ME ONCE. NOW WE CALL ONE ANOTHER ON THE PHONE AND RARELY EMAIL !! YOU ARE RIGHT.. THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A LETTER!!!!!
SHE EVEN RESPONDED TO YOU WHEN YOU WROTE
“LAST NUN STANDING IN PARADISE”. SHE WAS SO TOUCHED
THAT YOU DID THAT…..THANK YOU DEAR FRIEND..
LOVE MAGGIE ( AND MOLLY TOO)

Reply

Melannie Svoboda SND November 12, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Wow! A pen-pal for 60 years! How wonderful! Thanks for sharing this fascinating story with us, Maggie! Melannie

Reply

Regina Davala November 12, 2012 at 7:40 pm

My dad had to leave school in 7th grade to work his family farm. He was never comfortable with writing but with my mother’s encouragement, he did write me one letter when I was a novice. Like you, Melannie, I do treasure that letter and now I need to go find it and reread it again. thanks for triggering the memory!

Reply

Melannie Svoboda SND November 13, 2012 at 9:13 am

The fact that it is the only letter your father wrote to you, makes it even MORE precious, Regina. I hope you found it and reread it….Melannie

Reply

Julie Teder November 12, 2012 at 9:31 pm

I, too, started with pen pals in the 7th grade. She was a 7th grader in Yorkshire, England. My mother wrote me every Sunday from the time I left home to go Nursing school until the last year before she died and I have stacks of her letters to reread which I love to do. Thank you for writing all your wonderful books which Ed and I read and reread as well. Please don’t stop. Julie

Reply

Melannie Svoboda SND November 13, 2012 at 9:12 am

Dear Julie, We must be kindred spirits…The letters from your dear mother is certainly a treasure. Be sure to save them for your grandchildren! They will only get more valuable with age! Melannie

Reply

Mary Ellen Beebe November 12, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Thank you..I have the letters my dad wrote to my mother and myself while he was in Germany in WWII…I treasure them. I love to see my dad’s handwriting. When reading them it will give me joy knowing how he loved my mom and me. Your words give me such peace and understanding….Peace be with you.

Reply

Melannie Svoboda SND November 13, 2012 at 9:10 am

Wow! What a precious gift those letters are, Ellen! How lucky you are! Melannie

Reply

Joan Campagna November 14, 2012 at 2:21 am

Sr Melannie, thanks for another thought-provoking post! I cherish a collection of letters that my dad wrote to my mother while they were dating, circa 1955, after he was drafted to the army to serve in Korea. They were married in 1958, and as far as I know he never wrote any other letters-he passed in July of this year.

One of my most faithful pen-pals was Sr Margaret Gilmore (Sr Joan of Arc while she taught me 8th grade in 1979). She wrote to me from Chardon, Winter Haven, and Rome. I’m glad I didn’t know what email was in those years.
Unfortunately I am not much of a REAL letter-writer since the advent of email, texting, and Facebook. But to answer your question, yes, letters have played a big part of my life.
Thank you!!!
Joan Campagna

Reply

Melannie Svoboda SND November 14, 2012 at 6:47 am

Dear Joan, What a wonderful treasure you have! And my sympathy to you on recent the death of your dear father. I’ll pray for him and your family. God bless you! Melannie

Reply

Leave a Comment