The Christmas season is a great time to reflect on one’s character and to determine what makes a “life well-lived.” Whether you are young or old, becoming the best version of your self often presents a challenging dilemma.
If you enjoy inspirational memoirs, you will want to read Hannah Brencher’s book If You Find This Letter: My Journey To Find Purpose Through Hundreds Of Letters To Strangers. As the title suggests, the book exposes Hannah at a crisis point in her young life. Fresh out of college, she has visions of her future as a successful, happy, glamorous individual with an important career…able to make a difference in the world. Having the wisdom of several decades behind me, I could sympathize with the youthful struggles to commit to the right career path, to develop a clear picture of God and his expectations, to connect with others in new surroundings, and to find a life worth leading.
I would call Hannah a “wordsmith.” She is a talented writer with a gift for painting pictures for the reader. Early in life, she wrote journals and was comfortable exposing her feelings and aspirations using social media, and on her own blog. During a volunteer year in New York City (she worked at the United Nations and helped at a preschool), Hannah found herself struggling with self-doubt that caused her to doubt her worthiness, her physical attractiveness, and her faith. Life in New York City left her feeling alienated, lonely, and depressed. Knowing how much her mother’s letters had meant to her in the past, Hannah impulsively decided to leave a letter to an older woman wearing beat-up clothes and an exhausted demeanor:
I was watching the old woman, pulling at the curls in my hair, and thinking about the love letters my mother wrote and how she must have known an ordinary piece of loose-leaf paper morphs into a love letter when a person puts their self into it. Suddenly, the words steam off the page. Suddenly, your hands are caked with the remnants of someone else’s understanding and compassion and goodness. (p.83)
Though the letter to the lady on the train was never delivered, it did spark something creative and hopeful in Hannah. More honest letters poured out of Hannah, conveying her hopes, fears, and inspirational thoughts. She picked random people and places and distributed letters throughout the city. In a moment of bravery, she decided to blog about leaving the love letters all over the city and offered to write those in need of a letter, signed with her real name. The need was great and overwhelming. Hannah wrote letters to people contemplating suicide, those facing illness, young people being bullied, and the lonely and previously ignored.
Ultimately Hannah decides to build a website dedicated to connecting other letter-writers all over the globe with those needing letters, and tracking the impact if possible. The crazy idea was based on love and the fact that many people want to make a difference:
Love. it’s crazy to think it took me that long to figure out the one thing to make this all spin and go. It might have been the only thing that mattered the whole time. Not me. Not the stationery. Not the stamps or the strangers. Just the love we learn to give one another when no other motives stand on the table.
The small project morphed into something large and global. I dare you to walk away from this book without feeling the urge to connect with those in your community, friends, or family. It’s time to get out a pen and paper and “show up”…
If you like this book, I would suggest:
The Road To Character by David Brooks
This New York Times bestselling non-fiction book evaluates America’s transition to a culture that values self-promotion over humility, explaining the importance of an engaged inner life in personal fulfillment. Looking to some of the world’s greatest thinkers and inspiring leaders, Brooks explores how, through internal struggle and a sense of their own limitations, they have built a strong inner character. – Publisher’s Summary