Friday, September 17, 2010

The Power of the Written Word
 Lance J. Looney

Is there a special handwritten note from your childhood that you remember?  I remember fondly my special note. It was from my father.  I grew up in a small rural town several hours from Des Moines, Iowa.  I was a sophomore in high school and ready to board our noisy yellow school bus for the long trip to Des Moines to play in the High School state playoff.  If you have ever seen the movie Hoosiers, it was a similar setting. The town windows were painted, crowds of people everywhere and the local police car in front of the bus with its lights ablaze ready to give a ceremonial escort out of town.

Basketball was a way of life for our town when I was a child, and state playoffs were a first for our little hamlet. With my gym bag thrown over my shoulder, I went to say goodbye to my parents one last time before the long bus ride.  With an awkward and unusual gesture, my father handed me something.   I looked down and it was a letter he had written.  I was given strict instructions not to open the letter until our bus was out of eyesight. I slipped it into my jacket pocket unable to say anything, shocked at what just occurred.

Once on the bus, I settled into the dusty seat with my hands shaking while I ripped open the letter and started to read, hoping all the while my teammates would not notice me as we bounced noisily down the highway. The words in the letter became alive as I started to read what was written.  In a single, handwritten, multi-folded page, I was expecting to see words about success and accomplishment since my father was always great at giving me achievement and praise, but instead it was a letter written about how he felt about me and what he liked about ME. He was proud of the person I was. He liked my gentle spirit and my kind personality. For several moments after reading I just stared at the letter, thinking about how it meant so much to me that he would take the time to do this. For the first time, I noticed what great handwriting he had. What he said in the letter was nothing new for he had said encouraging things to me before. But now there was written proof for me upon which to reflect. It was an amazing experience, one that has left such a happy memory.

Fast-forward several years to the present. Now, I am raising my own two children. If you are like me, you find yourself almost dizzy at the amount of information we process in a day. We are beaten down by the sheer pace of life in areas such as our finances, negative media, traffic delays, and countless others.  In so many situations the advanced technology can literally keep us from authentic communication with our children. I began to reflect on stories regarding the power of the written word and how it affects people, just like the letter from my father affected me.   A couple of immediate stories raced to the front of my mind.  Several days ago, I was at a meeting with Tom, a father of two.  He explained me that he tends to focus on the negative when raising his children.  I challenged him to WRITE simple and quick notes to his children.  At a follow up meeting, he excitedly explained to me that an amazing thing had started to happen. The writing, no matter how short and simple, allows him to focus on the positive because he is actively thinking about what he is going to write.
While on a business trip I met with Greg.  He shared his story with me.  His work has taken him all over the world, and he has experienced so many things.  He has had an amazing life. Currently, he lives next to the ocean with his own boat dock in the backyard.  He explained to me how written words are so important. He had tragically lost his father when he was nine years old.  During a visit to his house, I witnessed him race into his bedroom and pull out a school book that his mother had written for him the same year his father passed away.  He says there is something magical about his mother's handwriting, and when he looks at the book it gives him peace and comfort knowing he was loved. With all of the material things he has been able to afford in his life, nothing in his life compares to a book that was created for him over 50 years ago. Wow, what an amazing testament to the power of written words!

Although there are many ways of communicating with children that are important, I encourage and challenge you to find ways to bring the handwritten note into your home.  It allows you, the parent, to re-center yourself while capturing precious moments in such a natural way. I wish you much success, peace and happiness on your journey of parenthood.