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This past weekend, as I read through some old letters in my rare book and document collection, I was impressed with the wisdom, counsel and concern imparted by the authors of three particular letters. Each letter contained “hidden treasures” or valuable insight and counsel that could benefit each of us today. I say “forgotten” letters because these letters have never been published. Although the letters may be “forgotten”, the individuals are not. They are well-known historical figures: Lorenzo Snow, Albert Einstein and Mother Teresa.
In 1896, Lorenzo Snow was president of the Salt Lake Temple. He took time out of his demanding schedule to write a letter (on Salt Lake Temple stationery) to his son LeRoi. At the time, LeRoi was a missionary in Germany. It was apparent from the tone of the letter that President Snow was addressing LeRoi’s concern about his lack of success on his mission. President Snow gave the following advice:
“…One thing I wish to impress upon you…Do not expect to convert everybody, or even very many– else you may be disappointed, discouraged and slacken your energies and fail in doing your duty and receiving the approval of the Lord and the great blessings to which the continuance of fruitful labors entitle you. The Lord tells us if we labor all our life–and save but one soul–how great shall be our joy. Now my dear LeRoi, what if that one soul you save on your mission is your own?”
Wow! That last line, “What if that one soul you save on your mission is your own?”, really made me ponder. This is a great question for all missionaries–past, present and future–to contemplate.
A half century later another letter was written. This letter was written by Albert Einstein to his son Eduard–whom he called “Tete” (for “petit”). When this letter was written in 1944, Einstein had not seen his son since he had immigrated to America in 1933 to escape Nazi Germany. Eduard stayed in Switzerland. Although they were thousands of miles apart, Eduard felt that he could never measure up. It was very difficult for Eduard to have a “genius” for a father–one who had won the Nobel Prize. During his college years a downward spiral of mental illness commenced that led to his being institutionalized for schizophrenia on and off for the rest of his life. Although Einstein wasn’t necessarily known for his fatherly skills–he still made an effort to encourage and motivate his son–even at a distance.
In this letter, Einstein becomes philosophical about his age and sends literary recommendations and encouragement to his son. Einstein writes in part:
“…I hope that you feel well and content and can get yourself to sit down and write something literary again. I read a collection of your aphorisms without knowing who composed them and was positively surprised when I found out who the author was. There’s nothing more joyful and satisfying than what you’ve fought to create and shape into the best form possible. I feel that now, especially as I’m getting older and I have the sense of distance to life that older people tend to develop. After having been isolated due to your illness, perhaps you can relate to this more than other people your age.”
Einstein finishes the letter by recommending reading materials to inspire his son to write more. “Read Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Power of Darkness’ and the Aeschylus
dramas–especially ‘Prometheus’ “. Love, Papa
Hopefully this letter can be a reminder to all of us to be more considerate of those families and individuals dealing with mental illness.
And finally, I read a letter written by Mother Teresa. This letter was written on July 23, 1997, just a few weeks before she died. This letter would have been one of the last letters written by Mother Teresa. A young man named Richard, from Buffalo, New York had asked Mother Teresa, in Calcutta, India for her autograph. Although she was suffering from very poor health, she took the time and effort to honor a request and teach a lesson–one which should inspire each of us. Mother Teresa’s letter was brief, thoughtful and to the point. Here is the content of that letter:
Thank you for your letter. More important than autograph[s] is what we do for Jesus and through Him for others. Look around and see – there are so many in the world who are lonely, unwanted, who have no one to call their own – maybe in your own home. It is easy to love the people far away. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Be the sunshine of God’s love to your own – for this is where our love for each other must start. Let us pray.
GOD BLESS YOU. Mother Teresa
Again, another powerful line, “It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home“.
Although these letters were written over the span of a century, their counsel for each of us is timeless.
Reid N. Moon is the owner of Moon’s Rare Books in Provo, Utah. He and his wife Melanie and their four children are members of the Edgemont 14th Ward.
If you would like to attend Reid N. Moon’s next lecture on “C. S. Lewis” please R.S.V.P. 801-802-6064. Zion’s Mercantile, 4801 N. University Ave., Provo, UT 84604. Monday, June 6, 2016. 7:00 PM. Seating is limited.