Hope in an Envelope
The news keeps giving us opportunity to stand in grief with mother after mother, father after father, family after family. For me it started with Columbine. I had a young daughter and the pain of loss I felt for those parents was penetratingly acute. Columbine hit everyone in the gut, we were a nation stunned. I wrote a poem of condolence which I sent to the town in care of a school counselor whose name was mentioned in a news article. I needed so badly to express my grief.
There were many notes of sympathy over the years, written and mailed sporadically.
Then, dear Jim Foley, the young journalist captured by ISIS — profoundly horrified by his public death, I felt compelled to write a note of condolence to his mother Diane. I went on to form a commitment to the Foley family in terms of support for the legacy foundation they created in Jim’s name. I participated in a 5k, through an a acquaintance who went to grad school with Jim, helping to raise money to start the James P. Foley Legacy Foundation. I supported a dinner in Washington D.C. this spring through the Foundation honoring three brave women journalists reporting from combat zones; my partner attended on my behalf as I was unable. I am not rich. I am a working nurse. What I give in terms of donations are not large but nonetheless significant to me.
More recently, I was moved to write to the parents of Richard W. Collins III, the graduating college student who was murdered on the street as he was walking back to campus with a friend this May. An horrendous hate crime: he was black. I felt bereft. I felt angry. He had just been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army. He was bright and ambitious and ready for the world. My daughter is now in college, readying herself for the world. I made a twenty-five dollar donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center in his name with a note to his parents. I received two unexpected and beautiful handwritten notes in return.
Then came the young men murdered in Portland who so righteously defended the women of color on the light rail train platform. I wrote to Ricky John Best’s wife, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche’s mother.
I wrote to the father and mother of the Muslim teen, Nabra Hassanen, kidnapped off the street, murdered and thrown in a pond in June after she was leaving an IHOP restaurant near her mosque with friends who then ran to get help. I wrote the card in care of their mosque, the name found in a news report.
I have no thought to obsess, to write to the parent or family of every murdered, marginalized, or wronged person; I just do it sometimes when the need feels great. I realize it is hard for many people to look grief in the face and address it head on. And I know writing comes easily to me. But really, there are no inadequate words. Love is love. It takes very little time and a stamp. It feels important.
Today I heard back from Cindy Wambier, Otto’s Mom. Otto had the misfortune of pulling a prank while on a school trip in North Korea and returned after seventeen months comatose — beaten and battered after a brutal & lengthy incarceration — only to die days later here in the U.S. surrounded by his family. I cried when I read her card — such a simple kindness in the face of extreme grief. I do not expect to hear back. I truly feel unconditional when I reach out. It is a deep honor and a wonder when a return card arrives in my mailbox.
The only personal power we have under these circumstances seems to be love: to extend love. I refuse to be powerless. I imagine so many of us feel this powerlessness as we take in one horrific news story after another.
I will say that hearing from some of these families humbles me to no end. They must believe in the fundamental goodness of humanity too — they are not completely without hope, even though their pain is overwhelming and their lives agonizingly and forever changed.
I will continue to take the raw pain in my palm as I am able — to stroke it like a kitten — for me and for them.