Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How a little angry letter taught me a life lesson

Doesn’t it always seem to happen like this?

Right in the middle of a whirlwind time in your life, when you’re juggling a monster list of things-to-do, and rushing around at full-speed in order to prevent any potential problems from happening, something ALWAYS goes wrong.

Because of course,  Life is messy, right?

But sometimes this powerful truth, that uncontrollable stuff happens, gets obliterated by my Type A-nutty attention to details, which gives me a delusional sense of control. I admit it.

“Yes, (I tell myself in my sped-up, smug moments of organization), “I CAN keep all those pesky mistakes from happening.”

And this was my mental outlook on that sunny day when I went to my mailbox to check on my RSVPs, and saw the letter. It was enclosed inside a black monogramed enveloped and it was written in shaky, cursive handwriting and addressed to me.

Someone had taken the time to write me a letter. An angry one.

It turns out that the writer of this letter had not received one of the fifty-seven, handmade invitations I had painstakingly made for each of the Past Loyola Guild Presidents. And despite the fact that I had double-checked the envelopes for errors, and delivered the invitations to the Post Office myself, just to confirm the proper postage, somehow this woman had not received her invitation.

Only, I would never have known this error had occurred, because none of the invitations had been returned to me; a fact I still find perplexing.

The writer of the letter had wanted me to know who she was. She began her letter by reminding me of her important contributions to the Guild and she was angry that she had never received an invitation to the Annual Installation Lunch; in fact, she had only learned the date of the Luncheon through a random conversation with a friend, which infuriated her even more. Her letter was brief and to-the-point: she was an important person and she wanted to be treated as such.

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As I read the letter over, I could feel my irritation transform into outrage.

My mind became a smoky, hissing furnace filled with all the bristling comments I wanted to tell her. I walked swiftly into the kitchen in order to rant to Mr. Moss, and every sentence I spoke began with the word, “I”.

I couldn’t believe this was the reaction I was getting after all the hard work and sweat I had been putting into this event…

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Do you see it? The ME-ME- ME- focus?

I’d been working non-stop to make sure nothing went wrong. I felt angry and unappreciated. And secretly incredulous. How did this happen, I wondered?

(Here I was, still deluding myself into believing that if only I did everything RIGHT, nothing would go wrong).

Only to my surprise, Mr. Moss did not give me the response I expected. He didn’t offer me soothing, words of sympathy, nor did he begin to match my angry mood, in fact, he chuckled. And then he told me the truth from his calm, detached perspective. Look at her age, he said. My God, she’s an elderly woman…who knows what happened to the original invitation. Maybe she DID get it and overlooked it. Lost it. Threw it out. How often have I misplaced things, at my age?

And he said more.

This letter is not about YOU, it’s about HER. Think about her life, right now. Think about how much smaller your world gets as you move into your eighties. And then you’ll understand why this one annual event –which connected her to a lively, robust time in her life—might mean so much to her.

I listened. And this is really what I heard from our quiet, meandering conversation:

It’s not ALWAYS about ME.

There it it, my lesson in black and white.

I had been reacting as if I was the center of the universe. From this ego-centric perspective, I was seeing everything only from my vantage point, as if my feelings and my story were all that mattered…

And I was so wrapped up in my experience, that I couldn’t begin to make room for this woman’s feelings, or ponder her current circumstances. If I had, maybe I might understand why receiving a timely invitation was so important to her. Only the louder I protested all the reasons why this woman was wrong, the more blinded I was to the larger perspective.

Me. Me. Me.

It’s funny how easy those words come out of my mouth. Especially when I’m tired and not keeping a balanced life. And something else. I noticed that one of my immediate reactions was to defend my reputation. I was too concerned about what others might think. In fact, I immediately wanted everyone to know about my hand made invites,  the hand-addressed envelopes, and the special trip to the Post Office. Look, I had wanted to explain to those imaginary, black-robed jurors hovering in my mind, I most certainly did not forget her. See? I am on top of things.

And I noticed that this focus on what others might think, only fed my anger. Which was a humbling realization.

So what did I do?

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Well, I waited a few days. And then I bought some pretty stationary and sat down to write her back. And I began by agreeing with her. Because, truthfully, I did believe that Past Presidents deserve our special recognition, and that’s why I had made special invitations in the first place.

And I told her that I was sorry that she didn’t get her invitation. Because I was.

And I wrote other things, but the primary message of all my words can be summed up like this:

You weren’t forgotten. We deeply value your friendship. You are Special.

I never bothered to email or send out explanations to anyone else. If others heard a complaint about my lack of invitations or questioned my lack of organization, so be it.

I know what I did.


And I did hear from the writer. On the afternoon of the event, an elderly women in a stylish spring outfit, came up and grabbed my hand. She introduced herself and thanked me profusely for my “beautiful letter.” And as I smiled and spoke with her and her friend, I couldn’t help but notice that both of these women wore bright lipstick, and had perfectly coiffed hairstyles, which made me suddenly think about my Grandma Mary.

I saw the red lipstick. And I thought about how happy Grandma would have been, to dress up for a luncheon like this, where she could laugh and chat with her friends.

And for a blurry second, I couldn’t help myself. I imagined that someone…somewhere, had once taken a few minutes to make my own Grandma feel special and acknowledged; and I felt a sudden sensation of warmth.




Funny how those little life lessons work out.













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