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28-Love Letters from Vietnam: How to Nurture a Soul
23 September 1969
For a list of all the Tim and Kate letters, click here.
Hello my love and my life; how are you? I received the pictures you sent of the roses. They were beautiful, as I hoped they would be. (Editor's note: You'll remember that Tim wasn't able to write while his squad was busy cleaning the new barracks, so he had sent Kate roses to let her know he was thinking about her during this time.) I couldn’t appreciate their full aesthetic value, for their beauty was overshadowed by yours. I found myself looking at your picture every five minutes. O’Brien got a kick out of watching me. Yes, we’re still in the same room. He’s the only island of sanity amongst this sea of confusion and idiocy - i.e. “my squad leader friend,” as you call him. Please, that’s nothing to jest about. In the course of three weeks, he lost his squad and was given a triple header Article 15 (disciplinary action). Must be some kind of precedent. (I asked O’Brien how to spell that one.)
Guess what? The day I received your letter, I found my name on the guard duty roster. Oh well, I should be grateful. It might have been KP. Things are not going very well at school though. I’m afraid I let you down, Kate. My average dropped from 99.9 to 99.0. We just started on a new radio this week. It’s the AN/ARC – 51BX. Don’t worry. It doesn’t mean anything to me either. It’s a pretty good radio, though, with some interesting circuits. At least it will keep me busy and my mind off the sorrow of our separation.
Ok, Kate, now it’s my turn. What did you mean by the statement, and I quote, “I’m learning an awful lot from her,*mostly about being human.” Katy, Katy, Katy, Mrs. A*, or anyone for that matter, could not possibly teach you anything about being human. Despite your self-criticism, Kate, you’re the most gentle, sensitive, and unselfish human being I’ve ever known. In this world of apathy, Kate, you have the God-given gift of empathy. There’s so much you can teach Gracie, and Linda, or anyone within the sphere of your warmth. I know, Kate, because I’m a more complete human being for having known you. There’s so much more you can teach me. Will you spend the rest of your life trying?
How are things on the home front, Kate? Have you arranged your free time as to fit in all your suitors? Must be a problem. How are your parents? Give them my regards. I can tell by your letters that you’re putting in a lot of time on your lesson plans. Don’t work too hard, Kate. Take care of yourself until I’m in a position to.
Well, it’s getting late, and tomorrow is going to be a long day.
I’m constantly reminded that God loves me. He sent you to me.
*the older teacher with whom I was team teaching
Steps in Soul-Nurturing
A Note from Kate to my Dear Readers,
It is with great emotion that I write today. Perhaps Tim's letter accompanying this post seems schmaltzy and mundane. Perhaps it seems out-dated and un-noteworthy. Or perhaps, there is part of the letter that touched you as it touched me. What I felt when I typed Tim's words from the forty-year-old, slightly yellowed, pages of his writing, is difficult to describe. Of course, through the years I've randomly pulled out one or two of the letters in the shoebox I saved, read snatches of them, and smiled. And yes, again, before I started posting the letters, I scanned the content of many. But it wasn't until today that I read this letter in full, and it wasn't until today that some kind of transformation or perhaps, a transcendence took place for me. No image or metaphor comes close to describing exactly what reading the one soul-nurturing sentence in this particular letter meant to me. I could say the cliched, "a piece of me that was lost is now found," or that a seed that lay dormant for many years has broken through its shell, but neither metaphor fits. Maybe I could say that in these words, I found recognition of who I once was and still want to be. Perhaps that's the most accurate.
By now, you've probably identified the one sentence in this letter that tweaked my soul. It appears after Tim quotes a sentence I apparently wrote to him. It's not the sentence with the phrase: the most gentle, sensitive, and unselfish human being I’ve ever known. Superlatives we use like "most sensitive" or "most loving human being in the world" fall like hollow reeds on soft ground. But it's in the next sentence in which Tim captures the essence of my aspirations - identifies my "mission statement" of life. He writes: In this world of apathy, Kate, you have the God-given gift of empathy.Ahhh, forty years later they touch me because they are at the core of who I still want to be. So how did he do that?
Step One: Find Words To Nourish YOUR Loved One's Souls
So how do we accomplish what Tim was able to accomplish in those 69 little characters of print? Would the exact sentence that Tim wrote to me, touch everyone in equal measure? Most likely not. But Tim knew who I was or wanted to be. You don't have to know a person a long time to understand where their proverbial treasure lies. In the six short months in our relationship, it is obvious that Tim picked up on this aspect of what I aspired to acquire. Therein lies the reason that no other words he could have chosen would have been more meaningful than those he chose to write that day in 1969. They hit me at my core.
FOR THE SENDER:
Understand What's at the Core
I'm surmising that in order to reach the person you love at the core of his or her being, you must understand what quality that person most aspires to acquire or values to the greatest degree. Perhaps it's wisdom, or strength, talent, or even beauty. Whatever that quality is, if you sincerely believe it is the quality your significant other possesses or aspires to, that is the quality you want to emphasize.
Trust the Magic of the Written Word
If there hadn't been a war; if Tim hadn't enlisted, we probably would never have written to each other, and I would only have an imperfect memory of how someone felt about me some forty years later. But here it is in black and white - tangible, touchable.
Everyday we hopefully say sweet and loving things to each other in our relationships. But I'm wondering if there is something a bit magical about writing our feelings down and presenting them in some way to the other person. Emails could work, but who knows if AOL or YAHOO might suddenly erase your loved ones saved emails and toss your nurturing words into some the ethereal cyber space that he or she can't ever again access.
So maybe a tweet at Twitter would do? Possibly. The sentence, In this world of apathy, Kate, you have the God-given gift of empathy is only 69 characters, well under Twitter's requirements, but if Twitter was around forty years ago, would I still have access to those words?
A physical piece of paper or card, on the other hand, is something the person you're in love with can touch and feel, cry onto, and put in a sock drawer! Seriously, you might want to take pen in hand and see what happens when you send or give your words to the person you love in your own writing on an actual piece of paper! I've heard of marriage retreats that are based on writing letters to each other, and I think it's well worth the effort to try.
TO THE RECEIVER
Save and Savor
The best advise I can give(as a one who is a bit farther down the time line of life than many) is this: Save all the lovely words that "whoever" it is writes to you. Perhaps you have cards from a teacher, a friend, your spouse that have meaningful words about who you are. Put the notes or cards away to save them, but not far away! Look at them often. Use them like you use a favorite cologne or perfume - to refresh and renew your spirits. Scan them, type them, frame them, if you want. If you're embarrassed at their beauty, hang them in the back wall of your closet because these are the words will hold you up when life, like some careless puppy, takes you by the collar and tosses you about. They are the words that will nourish your soul and bring you back to who it is you always wanted to be.
Time Your Reading if You've Lost Your Love
Not all relationships last. People leave or die and drift away. Only you can determine a safe and healthy time for you to read the words a lost loved one has written. Somehow, I knew this was the right time to read Tim's letters, and I feel grateful for whatever intuitive force allowed me to know that timing. There's a place in your head that allows you to be open to the good times of the past and embrace them as something that you own. The feelings are yours and belong to no other and with that knowledge comes great joy.