‘Dear Angela’ (Corresponding with My Journal)

    “‘Dear Angela’ (Corresponding with My Journal)” Ensign, Jan. 1991, 72–73

    “Dear Angela” (Corresponding with My Journal)

    Dear Angie,

    What would you have done? I just stood there by the window of my teaching booth, frozen by the kaleidoscopic explosion of gunfire from the building next door. The guns (I could see them; they were poised on a deck of the building at about the same height as my seventeenth-story classroom) fired round after round at their target, a jet now struggling lamely across the darkening skyline of Seoul, Korea.

    So there I was, Angie, a brand-new college graduate, bravely attempting my first “real” job: English instructor to about fifty young, fast-track engineers, architects, and businessmen employed by Hyundai, one of South Korea’s major construction firms. Only minutes earlier, I had been sitting at my switchboard, plugging in to each student’s headset to help him pronounce new vocabulary sand taking in the magic of the city at twilight, amazed anew that opportunity and preparation had brought me nine thousand miles from home to new adventure.

    The glamour was fading fast, however, and turning into genuine terror; startled students began to rip off their headsets and bolt from their carrels. A couple ventured toward the window where I stood, urging me to follow them out the door at the opposite end of the room. But I could only stand there, feet planted like redwoods, fascinated by the horror of watching a real plane being shot at by real guns.

    Welcome to my journal. You have just shared part of a “letter” I wrote to my niece, Angela, who listens, wide-eyed, to nearly all of Aunt Suzy’s stories. Her enthusiastic reception brings out the best in my expression, so, when I want to tell it best to my journal, I often address the entry to Angie. She may not read my journal for years (she may never read it, for that matter), but the image of her rapt attention (complete with furrowed brow, giggles, and exclamations) makes my record-keeping “duty” a pleasant sharing activity.

    Another reason I frequently direct my written history to loved ones is that when I do, I write better. My tone is more personal, colorful, succinct; the words come more easily, even when my subject is not particularly earthshaking. Take, for example, the way I might have begun my account of one less-than-red-letter day:

    This morning started off with a disappointing (and expensive) incident: I was disinfecting my new soft contact lenses by boiling them on the stove. While I was waiting, I turned on the television in the next room and got involved in a talk show. Forty-five minutes later, I remembered what I had been waiting for—but it was too late. The lenses were sealed inside their plastic case, which had melted, permanently, on the pan. (The water had long since evaporated.) I felt sick.

    An accurate description, true; but the discouragement brought on by my oversight gradually gave way to quite the opposite reaction. Observing my latest investment forever fused to a piece of heirloom cookware—an odd combination destined to endure several lifetimes—I started to laugh. Then I put on my old glasses, opened my journal, and directed my new perspective to the other victim of this misfortune, thus:

    Dear Mother,

    Remember your favorite stainless-steel saucepan—the one Grandmother brought from Sweden? …

    A terminally ill mother of three small children taught me another reason for using the letter approach in writing personal history. As she lay in bed, this woman wrote a personal letter to greet each major rite of passage in her daughter’s and sons’ lives. More than simply a note of good luck, each message contained the details of a similar (or complementary) occasion in her life. Her daughter’s wedding day, for instance, will include a handwritten description of her mother’s marriage, along with a tender expression of confidence and love. But this doesn’t need to be a deathbed activity; I can write preparatory/explanatory letters to loved ones as well.

    Finally, the journal-in-letter form has a distinct scriptural overtone. The standard works include letters from fathers to sons, prophets to Saints. One of the most poignant cases of letter-turned-scripture occurs in the Book of Mormon, where Mormon brings Moroni up to date on the latest in a series of “sore battle[s] with the Lamanites, in which we did not conquer … ” He offers a word of comfort, though: “My beloved son, I write unto you again that ye may know that I am yet alive.” (Moro. 9:1–2.) The fatherly encouragement and love continues: “My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up … and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.” (Moro. 9:25.) Can there be a better way to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers”? (Mal. 4:6.)

    In a larger sense, scriptures are “letters from home” to all of us, divine counsel from a loving eternal Father whose “work and glory” are our success and perfection. That these letters frequently take the form of instructive personal and social history provides support for addressing the events of our lives to our loved ones.

    I realize that some elements of personal record keeping are not particularly letter-worthy. Sometimes we simply need to explore our thoughts—alone. But in many cases, journal letters can add vitality to our record keeping; they can instruct, prepare, and enlighten—and render temporary correspondence permanent.—Susan C. Eliason, Provo, Utah

    Illustrated by Scott Greer