Tag Archives: changing the world

Whispered Help And The Jelly Of The Internet

I have learned fairly quickly, in just two years, that we become our visible selves. Not our lonely selves or our internal selves or even our midnight by candlelight selves. We become the kind of selves that are stacked side-by-side with the other selves we see sitting in our Twitter feed and our email chains. We become the kind of selves who are measured in what we have told the world.

what-we-tell-the-world

If that is true, I have failed. I have failed to tell the world that I am the kind of self who knows only how to be quiet and care too much and try. I have not pretended to be an illusory human being who whisks in and cleans up other people’s messes. I have not pretended to have it all figured out so that you might trust me more with your own pain and trials.

My regret is not in painting myself accurately, but in believing that everyone else does the same. In believing that we are not the people we are when the laptop is shut, that we are only the people we can become when we create something for the world to see.

But I know it differently.

The people I have lost too soon, the ones who have died suddenly and over just a short expanse of time, have shared in themselves this character trait. And perhaps it is a product of the older generation, one that I worry we’ve lost, but this trait tells us to be not just extraordinarily and outwardly and loudly passionate, but to whisper our help, our talents, our trials and tribulations.

Do not stand in front of 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 followers and tell them that you have done something wonderful, it says. Stand next to the ones you love most and lift them up and expect that no one, not a single soul, ever breathes a word of it.

I worry that we have learned it backwards. I worry that we, or maybe just me, have ingested the hard-to-swallow notion that we are our projects, our creations, our big bad world-shaking efforts. That we cannot quietly sit in the library and write letters to petition government rulings or bend over pots on the stove and stir some magic into meals for the homeless—or just our ailing neighbor.

I worry that we do good because it looks good, because it gets talked about, but not because we are compelled to alter the status quo. Not because we desperately seek to feel our knees give out when the child we’ve fed comes running toward us and we sweep her in our arms, twirl her around and feel love deeper than all those retweets and likes and mentions.

Before I ever wanted to be someone big and bold and fierce, I was just a little girl who made friends with a man who taught me to do what I did not because I was particularly good—in fact, I was downright awful—but because I could not envision an alternative.

I worry we do things because we feel obligated. We create because otherwise we’ll be forgotten. We spread ourselves like jelly on the Internet, leaving our mark like sticky residue on keyboard keys, sweet but not full of what we really need.

My hope, today and tomorrow and years from now, is that every project and creation and calling is not saturated online because we must not drown and dissolve, but because it itself is remarkable. That we do not feel compelled to bring to life every midnight dream because we cannot do it all. We cannot all be Mother Teresa.

Some of us have to sit quietly and work tirelessly and understand that visibility bears no correlation to our goodness, that hard work will always be hard work, especially when it goes unspoken.

I hope we haven’t yet lost that, but I worry.

She is all ambition and heart, rock solid and unquestioning.

Katie Colihan of KatieBlogs.com

Katie asked me to get coffee before we’d typed so much as 140 characters to each other. I actually stopped halfway between a side street in downtown New Brunswick and the spot where Henna’s car was illegally parked to read the notification on my phone.

You have to understand: people don’t take chances on me. I’m not among the instantly intriguing shimmery and sequin-rimmed cardigans hanging on mannequins in the front window at Express.

You also have to understand: that’s just the kind of heart Katie’s equipped with. She doesn’t need much to go on, just a little reassurance that you are a kind soul stuck inside a sometimes nasty and lonely world.

When I realized how many hands Katie had, how many pots of honey she’d dipped her paws into, I was only more impressed. Every single one of her five, count ‘em five, jobs is scheduled for a day of the week.

Mondays are for Stratejoy, Tuesdays and Thursdays for Love Bomb, and so forth.

And that does not bother her. She does not feel ready to drop one, two, three, heck even four jobs when some of us run and run and run and think we cannot even handle one.

She is all ambition and heart, rock solid and unquestioning. She knows the word “no” but chooses “yes” when she means it and doesn’t apologize to herself later.

She taught me about scheduling, about dreaming only big enough to keep you from hurling yourself onto the floor in quiet desperation that you cannot possibly do enough. She taught me a lot from her spot on the other side of the screen, probably only half an hour from the house I grew up in but a solid four-hour car ride from my temporary residence in western Virginia.

Mostly, she taught me that a cup of coffee is not a cup of coffee. That should she chisel a thirty-minute block out of her organized and jam-packed schedule to someday sip java with this girl over here, it will be for the same reason she runs wild and fierce in this big ole world.

She cares.

Enough to construct a giant love bomb when a best friend of mine was hanging onto hopes of her own happy ending like the last sheet of toilet paper on the public bathroom stall roll. She saves lives, literally, and reminds me that there is nothing wrong with juggling projects, with organized, facilitated chaos.

Maybe, I think, she’s making up for those of us sitting on couches watching Simpsons reruns. [Nothing against the Simpsons. I just had to pick a show.]

The Girl Who Saved The Postal Service

packaged letters bundle

via weheartit.com

The moment she heard the news, she ran outside and got into her car.

She drove the thirteen miles to the nearest Target, slammed the driver’s side door shut, and raced inside.

Grabbed a red plastic basket — she was going to need it.

It wasn’t until she reached the stationery section that she broke down and cried.

A young mother with an antsy toddler in the front seat of plastic carts slowed her steps to raise an eyebrow at the girl on hands and knees, scooping packs of blank note cards into her basket.

She filled it to the brim with all the supplies she needed to fight the system: packs of pens, blank invitations and thank-you notes, note cards and envelopes.

The cashier at the checkout counter, a sweet old man with the smile the size of Kentucky, scanned each item and placed them gingerly in the bag.

“You heard what they’re saying on the television, right?” he said. “About the postal service?”

“I heard.” She bounced up and down on her heels, rubbed her hands over her biceps. “Uh huh. I heard.”

“It’s not gonna shut down right now,” he assured her. “Been around since the country’s founding and it’s not going anywhere.”

She ignored this.

“I figure if I send at least fifty letters to fifty people, and those fifty people send fifty letters, that’s already thousands of letters in the mail. That’s already thousands of people having a conversation.”

“You kids these days.” He laughed and handed her a receipt. “You think you can just do something small and it’s going to matter to the higher-ups. The government’s a big mess. A big self-centered mess.”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “All those government people, they all have family too.”

He handed her one of the bags.

“So they want to keep in touch with their families. They want to get a handwritten note still on their birthdays.”

“Honey,” he said. “My family stopped sending me birthday cards almost 50 years ago.”

“What’s your name?”

She reached into her bag and pulled out a sticky note pad and a pen.

He tapped his nametag. Carl. New Team Member etched underneath.

“Well, Carl New Team Member, I’m going to add you to my list.”

“Don’t do me any favors,” he said.

“I’m not. I think you know 50 people who want a letter. I think you can save the postal service.”

And then she exited the store, hauling her bags to the car.

It was raining outside when she got back to her house. She darted to the front door, juggled her house keys and slipped inside.

Then she sat down, wrote straight through the night.

When her wrist ached and her eyes closed, she thought about the generation after her. The generation dedicated to text messages deleted every two years when they traded in for new phones. She thought about her own pile of letters, crumpled and stained at the bottom of her desk drawer.

She could smell the parchment, feel the pages beneath her fingertips. She didn’t know what would happen if she didn’t have that.

She waited until the sun came up before she walked the mile to her driveway and stuffed the mailbox full. She raised the red flag on the side and waited, dazed, worried the mailman wouldn’t come. 

Hannah Brencher believes the world needs more love letters. Don’t let this beautiful project die because Congress won’t bail out the postal service. Write a handwritten note today.

20SB Guest Post: As Simple As Writing A Letter

I guest posted Tuesday on the 20 Something Bloggers official blog — TwentyTwenty — and had to share it with you all because I adore this girl and her project. When I read her first Love Letters post, I ran downstairs to tell my roommates I’d seriously met the next Mother Teresa.

via weheartit.com

When Hannah Brencher answers her phone, the first thing you notice is the way she spins the conversation so it’s not about her—it’s about you.

“How are you?” she says. “How is your summer?”

And she wants to know. She’s not asking because that’s what people do. The genuine question threads through her voice like syrup dripping all over fresh-griddled pancakes.

That’s Hannah’s MO. She believes that helping others as much as we can helps us lead a fulfilled life.

Last year, Hannah volunteered for the United Nations and commuted on the 4-train every morning from her residence in the Bronx to the U.N. headquarters in Manhattan.

It was on one such train ride that she picked up her pen and never set it back down.

She wrote a letter to a woman with a red hat on and didn’t know what to do with it. She said she left it on the seat and felt like she’d left a piece of herself on the train.

“I started on the train because I needed something to do so I didn’t break down crying,” she said.

That first love letter sparked 30 or 40 more until they became, she said, her cure for loneliness.

“I know how it feels to be lonely, and people seem so lonely in New York City,” she said.

She hoped the love letters would work their way into the hands of someone who desperately needed them.

She left each one somewhere different but intentional—on the shelves at the New York Public Library, behind saltshakers at restaurants, on sinks in Starbucks bathrooms. She didn’t want anyone to accidentally throw the letters out.

After all, they were just scribbled on notebook paper.

And she didn’t sign them.

Then, she did what she does best. She wrote a blog post about it, opening up the love letter requests to her readers.

“At most, I thought I’d get 20 requests from readers,” she told me.

Within a week, she had 200 requests. She called her mom, completely baffled, asking her what to do.

“I just need to start writing them,” she decided. And so she did.

A week later, she got the opportunity of a lifetime: meeting her favorite author, Courtney Martin, for coffee in New York City. She emailed Martin on a whim and asked for 5 minutes of her time. What she got was so much more.

Martin gushed about Hannah’s blog. She’d shared a link to the love letters post on her own blog—Feministing—and that’s why the requests took off.

Hannah opened up for requests in October 2010. By Christmas, she’d written 250 love letters. Some of them were just from people who thought the project was cool; others wrote her heart-wrenching emails about the lives they were living, asking her for a letter.

“The last person I would think to reach out if I’m going through something tough is a stranger,” she said. “If they’re not getting a love letter [from someone else], I’m gonna get it done for them.”

And now she’s doing what she always wanted.

“I always said when I was a little girl, the world needs more love letters,” Hannah told me.

It seemed too simple.

“If you asked me a year ago if I was just gonna write love letters and that would be enough, I’d be like, ‘What are you talking about?’ she said. “God threw me a left hook.”

And so she’s bringing back the handwritten note—love letter style—because she thinks everyone deserves a love letter. Since then, she’s written 368 letters covering residents of 5 continents, 43 states.

“We don’t need to be best friends. You don’t need to do anything for me. I just want to help you in whatever way I can,” she said.

It’s as simple as that.