“Mommmm! How do you spell ‘Great Grandma?”
“Harper, please don’t yell across the house. Come out here and I will tell you how to spell it.”
“But mom! It’s a surprise for Great Grandma. You can’t see it.”
“But I am not going to wake up your brothers, Harper. Can you come to the couch and I’ll tell you the letters?”
She sauntered out to the living room just a minute later, arms full of supplies and awkwardly cut paper hearts. After she spilled the contents of her tiny arms onto our oversized ottoman, she warned me not to come too close. “I just need the letters, mom. I’m making a card for Great Grandma. But you can’t see it yet.”
“Oh, Harper girl, that is really sweet, love! Great Grandma will be so excited to get that.”
“Yeah she will.” (Harper does not often lack confidence in her ideas.)
“Ok, are you ready for the letters? G-R-E-A-T, then a space, G-R-A-N-D-M-A. Great Grandma.”
Harper elaborately decorated the rest of the card with drawings of stick figures and hearts, swirly circles and even a depiction of her great grandma getting the letter out of the mailbox. She finally showed me her masterpiece with a beaming smile of pride, then folded it approximately 18 times into a thick, unrecognizable shape, and put it in an envelope. We sent it off, and I gave the card no more thought than that.
Last week a letter came in the mail from my grandma, Harper’s great grandma. She is my only living grandparent, having lost my grandpa and her sweet soulmate exactly two years ago. Since then, grandma JoNell has sold the big, beautiful home that held every memory of the last 45 years, moved in to a small retirement center, and spent many, many hours in the company of silence. When I opened the letter, it was a simple seven lines of beautiful, classic handwriting, the kind we just don’t see anymore.
Thank you so much for your nice letter and the sweet things you said.
I think your letter and the things you said were very good for a child of your age.
If you keep trying, I’ll bet you can be writing a book by the time you’re in school!
You are a very smart girl.
I’d love to have letters from you anytime.
Love, Grandma Mahoney
When I read this letter to Harper, she beamed, the image of her wise and gentle great grandma held in her heart as she took in the words that told her that special woman was proud of her. She brought the letter to her room and it is still on her dresser. I imagine we will put it someplace safe soon, but for now, Harper likes to see it.
I have done a lot of work in the last two years, things that I am proud of and that I hope have meant something. I’ve taught many classes and written many essays, some that have reached more people than I would have ever imagined. We bought a new house and a new car and we have diligently kept our debt at zero. I contributed to a book and celebrated it with parties and beautiful pictures. I’ve participated in Bible studies and book clubs, submitted articles at a few dream publications, read heavy theology and again and again set lofty goals for myself.
But I have not written a letter to my grandma.
Harper did, because my four-year-old seems to have a radar for what is important, one that I might have misplaced in my pursuit of doing important things.
Zack Eswine wrote these beautiful words about the mission of Jesus, saying that while we go big, fast and, popular, Jesus went small, slow, and overlooked. I want to say that the small, slow and overlook are my heart, but I wonder if my life has backed that up. The tiny letter from my grandma hit me with the conviction of a bag of bricks.
There’s a world of people out there I tend to think I need to applause of, and there are people right in front of me I actually know but can so easily value less. The silent cheers of likes and comments can feel so loud and affirming, a moment of a fleeting "I matter!"-- gone as quickly as it came. I think it is time I switched things up a bit, and stop simply saying small, slow, and overlooked but living them.
I’d love to have letters from you anytime. You got it, grandma.