PERSONIFICATION: attribution of personal qualities; representation of a thing as a person; embodiment
Each day, when I hear the bang of the mail slot, I peak at the pile to determine if it is worth bending down to retrieve. I will only trouble myself to pick the mail off the porch floor for one thing: a hand-addressed envelope. I don’t bend for bills, coupons, or marketing materials. I don’t bend for form letters. I only bend for personal correspondence. Sometimes, I’m a truly terrible person and bend to pluck personal correspondence from the pile but leave the inferior mail behind for Husband to retrieve later.
I am shockingly selfish when it comes to mail. Husband knows this about me.
Husband knew I must not have heard the mail arrive yesterday because there was no way I would have failed to bend and retrieve one particular envelope. It was a huge envelope with my name written in red calligraphy. When he showed me the envelope, I knew immediately who it was from. I only have one friend who calligraphies my name on all correspondence.
I typically only receive holiday letters or thank you notes from this particular friend. It’s not December and we haven’t had her for dinner in far too long, so I was baffled by the envelope.
I met this particular friend when she was my sixth grade teacher. She is an incredible woman and, like most teachers, has influenced my life in ways she will likely never know. She encouraged my writing, facilitated my transition to a new school, and prepared me for junior high (insomuch as anyone can ever be prepared for that crucible).
She is a pastor’s wife and remains, to this day, the strongest example I have ever seen of silent preaching. Her actions are consistently gracious, kind and loving. No quoting of Bible verses is needed; you KNOW she has something you want. Something big. Something transforming. Something true.
She is a walking example of the aspiration of the worship song refrain: They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love…Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Her love permeates a room like a comforting scent that makes you want to close your eyes when you inhale in an effort to savor it and try to draw it deep enough into your lungs that it becomes part of you.
She is the reason I announced all through junior high and high school that I wanted to be a pastor’s wife when I grew up. In the pure innocence of youth, I convinced myself that growing up to have a similar role would mean growing up to be a similar woman: full of love, grace and faith.
Throughout the years, I tried to keep in touch and would occasionally seek her and her husband out as dinner guests. I can picture nearly every meal I’ve had with her because each one has held a transforming moment for me. She’s that kind of person. She is humble and calm and gentle, but she sees and speaks the truth in a way that is easy to hear.
One of the memorable meals was when I returned from Colorado after running away from a relationship headed toward a fine, but boring, marriage. I had been casually dating a few guys and was telling her about them, essentially comparing and contrasting their attributes. She listened kindly and the commented simply that I seemed to really care for the older fellow from work. Whether she intended me to or not, I took that as her blessing to ignore the age difference and proceed.
Less than two years later, her husband officiated my wedding.
More recently, she came for a meal at our house and in the midst of conversation abruptly stopped and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t finish that story. It isn’t kind.” She moved on to another story.
That moment was so striking to me. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve started a story, realized I shouldn’t be telling it, but proceeded because it felt too late to stop. Seeing her respond so instantaneously to her “gut check” made an impression on me. I’ve had many chances to emulated her behavior since then and have managed to do so occasionally (though admittedly not nearly as often as I should).
Back to the mail…
Imagine my surprise when I opened the envelope to find one of my sixth grade writing assignments! She included a kind note and said she recently ran across my personification piece from sixth grade and thought I might enjoy having it. It’s a piece I wrote about Fred Flag (I was an alliteration addict even then). The tape and paper have yellowed, the flag only has thirty-three stars and fails to acknowledge several of the original colonies, but it is clearly mine.
My writing “voice” really hasn’t changed that much in the past two decades. I loved commas, even then. The piece is full of short sentences. I can even spot the places where I passed up a better vocabulary word in favor of a word I knew how to spell.
This is the most unexpected and delightful mail I’ve received in quite some time.