"Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes." - Carl Jung
Recently, before re-deploying to the Middle East, while looking at an old faded black and white photo of my Mom and sister I couldn’t help but think how difficult it must have been raising 5 children in a dusty old Hawaiian plantation camp similar to some of the camps in Afghanistan.
In an old wooden house, Mom used excellent time management techniques to get all 5 kids ready for school and get the house organized. She’d cleverly use notes for each child as ways to ensure directions were given….and followed. She’d leave these handwritten notes everywhere.
“Myles, do this….” Followed by another,
“Don’t forget the garbage can,…”
To, “ Be good today and stay awake in school,…”
And finally, “…Myles, I love you very much, take care of yourself and don’t forget to write…”
Funny, those quarter-page notes were the first of many letters to come in the following years.
After the kids were carted off to Catholic school, she cleaned the house and got ready to go and work as a waitress after Dad got home from his job at the Sugar Plantation.
I think you’ll agree with me that we all hold priceless, enduring memories of life while growing up.
But the one thing I cannot forget are the letters I received from my Mom once I decided to leave home for school at 12 years old.
Mom's weekly letters, always my source of encouragement, would arrive like clockwork. I would write my letter on Sunday, she would receive it on Tuesday, and her reply would be in my mailbox on by the following Thursday. Often when I had a tough day in class, Mom's letter would be waiting for me.
Mom’s letters crowned my mind, the memory of her stories created a beautiful sight of woven flower petals like a Hawaiian flower lei.
She wrote of ordinary things, the comings and goings in the neighborhood. What my dad was doing on the plantation mill; who had gotten married, joined the army or had a baby; what my brothers and sister were doing; which elderly person at church had died; how her large garden was doing.
Often the letters were written late at night, while she was cooking or getting ready for the next day. But she always found time to write and care for me.
On more than one occasion, a spatter food landed on the letter.
"It's midnight now," she would write, "so I guess I should head to bed. I'm falling asleep while writing this."
She’d write about my brother Leslie in Vietnam. Mom didn’t understand why we were there to fight a war no one understood but it was the right thing to do. I worried and prayed for her to have to strength to endure, hoping that my brother would come home alive.
Over the years when I went to the University of Hawaii and the one constant throughout that time was my mother's caring correspondence.
When I left Hawaii to enter the Army, and personal computers didn't exist and I couldn’t afford a telephone, letters were the only means of communication for the next four years. Mom's letters were my lifeline, my connection with home. By this time, my brothers were also away from home, so she was burning the midnight oil, as she would put it, writing to my siblings as well.
She now numbered the front of each envelope to make certain each one arrived safely, and surprisingly enough, they all did. It took two weeks for the letter to reach us, and two more weeks for my reply to get back to her. This was particularly worrisome when she had exploratory surgery for breast cancer.
By the time the letter telling us that she would have surgery reached us, she had already had the surgery---
(her "grand opening", she called it), and it took another two weeks for us to learn the outcome! It turned out to be cancer and her breasts were removed.
In my worldly travels, I began saving Mom's letters, knowing that someday she may not be with us. The saddest day was when the movers lost a box---the box containing all the letters. Gradually Mom and I switched to talking on the telephone more often than writing.
I’d still think sometimes of an awful scene—Mom would get sick with a mysterious illness. An imaginary scene would play for me in my mind---The whole family was with her in intensive care on a summer evening as Jesus called her Home. I was holding her hand as she slipped away.
But fortunately through God’s mercy, prayers, and His kindness, she still lives.
But I thought, what if I could write just one more letter to Mom today, this is what I would say:
…Mom, thanks for the unconditional love you showered on my siblings and me.
You treated us all equally and had no favorites.
Thanks for making do with so little when we were growing up.
We never realized how poor we were materially, because we were rich in so many other ways.
Thanks for your example of courage, faithfulness and determination as you lived out your life in situations that were often difficult.
Thanks for making the time to write letters when you were too tired and too busy. You'll never know how much they encouraged me.
Thank you also for always providing a listening ear to your family and to many others.
I thank God for the privilege of having you as my mother.”
Aloha and Love,
Your grateful son, Myles
Do write your letter today to a special loved one and make it extra nice.
One thing is for sure: You can live with the pain of denial (lack of sleep, hunger, tiredness), but the greater pain if the pain of regret. Regret is cleverly disguised as phrases like “...I could have...” or, “I should have...” Worse, “...I’ll do it tomorrow...”
"Each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible." - Viktor E. Frankl
Reader Reviews for
"Love Letters and a Hawaiian Lei"
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|Reviewed by Edward Phillips
|I am moved to tears by such a thoughtful caring story teller. My mom died when I was 5 years old, and I spent countless years cursing the skies for my loss. Finally, I get it. I need to write a letter.|
|Reviewed by Ann Marquette
|Wow Myles, I feel honored to read this short story about a part of your life. I am so happy for you that you had such a beautiful relationship with your mother.
I look forward to reading more of your writing, but I must go now and get some work done around the house. I have chosen to add myself as one of your "fans"...
|Reviewed by Gwendolyn Thomas Gath
Myles, a (belated)welcome to the den (from me)
I thoroughly enjoyed your heart touching story.
Hope you enjoy your stay here at the den.
Continued blessings to you,
btw~I also liked reading your blog very nice, tc
|Reviewed by Frances Webb
|A very sweet story. It reminds me of my mother when we were growing up. A widow, raising five of us children on welfare. She always made time for us and even wrote us poetry when we were grown. I miss those days. She is with Jesus now and out of suffering in this old world. That is such a blessing to know. I will see her again someday soon.|