Pope Francis adds memorials of 6 Saints to Roman Calendar
February 9, 2021
Universal Design
February 9, 2021

Legacy and letter writing

Expressive writing is one medium through which people process their toughts and feelings following stressful or traumatic events but the rate of emotional well-being and recovery depends on one's culture.

After having the opportunity to share a reflection on Sr Mary Margaret during her virtual memorial service (via Susan Engel), I decided to re-read correspondence I saved from a few of our Sisters over the years. There are several of our Sisters who have been splendid correspondents. I simply could not, would not, depart with those letters. I treasure each letter especially upon hearing of a Sister’s passing. I returned to a few of these letters, carefully re-reading and relishing every printed word.  These moments enable me to reconnect with their lives.  Their narratives concerning life, ministry, experience within the Community, and even their reflecting on my life (of what I shared with them through regular correspondence) continues to be an inspiration.

I have eight plus boxes (and growing) of resources individual Sisters have sent to me in recent years which they believe could be archival material. I decided I need to ask my building manager if I can lease an extra space in our basement storage room for these MHSH (Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart) archival materials, preserved in appropriate safe containers.

Yes, I have saved almost all of the handwritten, or typed messages sent to me via US Postal Service. These days I now save e-mailed messages on a thumb drive.  How times change!  If, in the immediate future, the thumb drive technology is replaced by another technology, I am ready to make the shift copying all the information to the new platform, or tool.

I had a long Zoom conversation the other day with several friends discussing family legacies.  We were reflecting on how important it is to document life stories for one’s family’s legacy, or, posterity. Currently, genealogy is the ‘in hobby’ for numerous people. My sister Janice is a case in point. The amount of genealogical research she recovered over the years is an unbelievable source of rich conversation between us.

I mentioned above the various techniques for documentation. I have, for a long time, believed that writing with pen and paper is richer than emails.  I must admit that a number of friends continue to disagree with me on this point. I believe a lot of our significant history and memories are lost via technology.  I know we can store our correspondence into a file to be retrieved at a future date. However, if the Internet, our computer crashes, or, if a virus is sent into the wide vast world of the ‘cloud’, wherever the cloud is, we could lose everything. What happens to those stories, or, memories?  This is not even accounting for the fact that some of us may eventually have a loss of memory due to the ageing process.

A few years ago, I attended a conference at Catholic University of America for Archivists of Religious Communities. One of the presentations that resonated deeply with me is how much of one’s religious communities’ history is being lost because of email correspondence, unless it is stored in the cloud. We quickly send emails and e-notes without thinking about saving them, or, storing them in a second, or, third place for posterity, or remember to transfer the documents to a new technology storage space as technology evolves.

The personal touch

I firmly believe that when I put a pen to paper, I am pressing my personal attention to the person I am writing, and imprinting my DNA into the paper.  The personal touch is important to me. Even if I type a letter, I still close with a personal handwritten note at the bottom adding my DNA and personal touch.

I frequently share this idea with my university students. First, I highly encourage them to spend quality time in conversation with parents, grandparents, relatives encouraging them to share their life stories. “Document them!”, is my mantra.  Years later, they will be glad they did. Second, some students articulate they do not write, cannot write (they only work on a computer), their handwriting is not legible, or, they only can print, forget cursive writing.  Third, they state, “It takes too much time to write. I prefer a tweet.”  What can 164 characters relate about a deep, moving life experience, or, encounter?

Give me a break!  A tweet!  What can one say in depth with a ‘tweet’, or, an ‘emoji’?

I guess what I am trying to say is that not only is ‘writing’, ‘correspondence’ becoming a lost art, as a means of communication between family, friends and communities, but more importantly, the sharing of a story, your story, our story for one’s legacy.

There are some who say: “I am not concerned about legacy. History is history. I am not concerned about the past, only the present and future.”  However, our present and future is based upon our past.  Do we not wonder how we arrived here today?  Do we not ponder what we could learn from the past, celebrate from the past, if not, redeem from the past?

I have written a bit extensively here. I guess my goal is to raise consciousness to the importance of memory, history and legacy if not for ourselves but for those who come after us.

Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, D.Min is a professor at the Department of Religious Studies, The Institute for Pastoral Initiatives, a Mariani