Moments of Grace | Just like the Epistles, letters bring grace through memories, revive souls of those we love
The Epistles are among the most beautiful letters ever written. St. Paul writes so eloquently in Philippians, "... I beg you: Make my joy complete by your unanimity, possessing the one love, united in spirit and ideals."
During a particularly challenging time in my life, I spoke with the late Father Jim Krings, a truly splendid priest. I went looking for words of wisdom from him and he simply stated, "Read Philippians. I can't give you any better advice and inspiration than that." He was right.
With that in mind, lately I have sought old letters -- from my parents, wife, children, friends -- looking for bits of wisdom. Two in particular have touched me and offered me moments of grace.
My sister, Patty, having gone through some of the treasures we gleaned from Mom and Dad's house after they passed away, shared a letter in my father's familiar script. He wrote it to my mother while he was overseas fighting in World War II. And so it was at age 63 that I truly came to realize just a bit of the loneliness, fear and love that burned within him, thousands of miles from the woman he married the day before he shipped out.
Recently, my brother-in-law, Dennis, shared a poem our Uncle Gene had written in 1942 on the shores of Casablanca during the war. The full grace of these two loving men's lives came closer in these writings.
My Dad, in effect, shared in his letter his experience in the war. He opened with, "I left the sweetest little wifie in the world at Union Station, kissed her goodbye with a box of candy." It was always evident that my Dad loved my Mom, but this sentence brought back memories of so many moments when his simple gentility touched her and our lives. Sometimes I look at my hands and say, "These are my father's hands -- the age-spotted, roughened skin with stubby fingers. Physically, I have become my father." Now every act of tenderness for my wife will seem rooted in the gentle, loving man evident in that letter.
His wonderful joviality in his correspondence presented itself quickly and unexpectedly, just as it did in life. "... Eating at 7 o'clock a very poor meal ... which was very bad ... overcooked ... We had coffee, buns and an egg that tasted like it was from the last war." Dad's humor and laughter pop up again.
But sadness appears also: "We landed on Omaha Beach ... We saw a very sorry thing ... the ruins of the invasion ... It looked worse than an earthquake."
And extreme discomfort: "... We didn't know where the enemy was the next day ... so we slept in the snow. Later we saw a barn and slept in there for a while." My father slept in the snow. I never knew his suffering.
And fear: "... We had not washed for days ... and just before we got to the next town, we were pinned down by machine-gun fire ... After an hour of lying in the snow, one fellow next to me was shot ..." In my sheltered existence, it is nearly impossible to envision my father watching a fellow being shot. My father, a brave, but frightened young man, with a new wife back in the States.
And history was nearly changed forever. He writes: "I got hit in the leg ... and foot ... and thigh. They shot at me with small arms fire. Finally I made it to the rear and help." These words, this letter, serve as grace, as an opportunity to share what had never been shared -- probably for a hundred reasons.
My wife's Uncle Gene sent this from Casablanca in 1941, also demonstrating the pain of being separated from those we love. I always thought of Uncle Gene as a man who was kind, but a bit fastidious. This poem shows another side:
"As I bid this solitude adieu/within my heart there is hope anew/
That all these things for which I pray/I find, in my reverie and hear them say/They too sit alone -- and cry a little."
Letters. Find some and read them -- to bring back the grace of memories, to revive the wonderful souls of those we love, and loved.
Jobst is semi-retired from St. Louis Catholic and public schools and currently works in the Parkway Schools' MOSAICS program and the Missouri Scholars Academy. He is a member of St. Paul Parish in Fenton. His email is email@example.com.
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