Samara O'Shea

Archive for August, 2007

Letters Reveal the Uncertainties of Mother Teresa, Which is Now Comfort to the Rest of Us

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

In an arguably morbid conversation, my sister and I were discussing our funerals the other day. The two of us are pretty irreverent when it comes to death—this, naturally, drives my parents mad—and we were laughing out loud over it. We’re not death-obsessed Goth queens, we just know that it’s a part of life and have decided to approach it with a sense of humor. I’m 27 and she’s 25, so this isn’t necessarily around the corner for either of us—but you never know. I asked her what type of funeral she’d like and she said, “That’s up to you. The funeral isn’t for the dead, it’s for the living.” I found that to be a keen insight on her part. The funeral is a place for the living to gather, comfort each other and gain whatever closure they can. The dead have little to nothing to do with the funeral.

In a somewhat strange tie in—if it can get stranger than my sister and I planning our funerals—I applied this same logic to the recent unveiling of Mother Teresa’s letters of doubt. This week’s Time magazine offers a comprehensive look into her secret life as one who often felt denied of the presence of God. In a September 1979 letter Teresa wrote to the Rev. Michael Van Deer Peet, “Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me—the silence and the emptiness is so great—that I look and do not see,—Listen and do not hear.”

It was Mother Teresa’s wish that these letters be destroyed. In a move that some might consider disrespectful, the church overruled that wish—the letters now appear in a book entitled Mother Teresa: Come By My Light (Doubleday). Yet in the same way that a funeral is for the living, so these letters are now for the living. When I hear of the doubts and uncertainties of a soldier and sage like Mother Teresa I don’t hold her in a lower regard, but it grants me solace to know that she, too, was human and had doubts as everyone does. The article purports that Teresa came to accept the doubt within her as part of Christ’s suffering. Meaning she shared in his desolate hour of, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” I find it beyond admirable that her work never ceased in light of her private torment. She moved forward and continued to give all of her time to those who needed it the most.

One would think Teresa’s reason for not wanting the world to read her letters is obvious—because she didn’t want to people to know she wasn’t of a faithful mindset at all times and in all places. But that is inaccurate. She explained to the Rev. Lawrence Picachy that if the letters became public, “people will think more of me—less of Jesus.” I admire that as well. She was humble until the end and wanted to protect Jesus even though she felt abandoned by him. For me, she was right about one part and not the other. There isn’t much that could make me think less of Jesus, however, I do think more of Mother Teresa.

Caught Between Two Causes

Monday, August 6th, 2007

My publicist sent me an e-mail the other day, and I noticed an addendum to her standard signature at the bottom. It was a note written in green accompanied by the image of a small pine tree that said, “Please consider the environment before printing out this e-mail.” Dagger through my heart! I constantly encourage people who know that they are never going to write another letter in their lives to print out e-mails. Even people who still do write letters should print out e-mails they find especially moving. I do it all the time. But I certainly don’t want to disregard the environment in any way, shape, or form.

I offer this compromise: Think long and hard about e-mails before printing them. In my days as an intern at Harper’s Bazaar the features editor would have me print out all of her new e-mails, and that’s how she preferred to read them. I suppose it was easier for her to think them through when she could hold onto them and jots notes for herself. I myself used to print out e-mails when my superiors would assign me a task. Then I’d throw each one away when I completed the job. These are the types of e-mail we should not be printing, and I’m guilty as charged. If you know an e-mail will ultimately end up in the trash, then it’s best to find another way to remind yourself to deal with it or reply to it.

The types of e-mails we should be printing are the cutes ones, the sweet ones, the funny ones, sometimes even the ones that are difficult to read. Any e-mail that summons an emotional reaction from you (any emotional reaction) should be printed and kept in a shoebox or a scrapbook or wherever you store your keepsakes. They will add up to being interesting evidence of your life someday. And the good news is, you’ve already done the editing. Forgive me for being morbid, but upon your death your children (or whoever) are much more likely to go through a box of papers than to spend hours on end going through your computer. Especially since there are hundreds (sometimes thousands) of arbitrary e-mails stored in our systems. If you’ve already picked out the good ones, the juicy ones, the exciting ones, then it’s more likely each e-mail will be read and forever appreciated by your family. Death aside, our computer systems are not fool proof. We save certain e-mails for a reason, and if the system were to crash and those saved messages were lost then we’d undoubtedly be disappointed. Paper has been around for a long time, and the letters our ancestors wrote outlived them as our tangible messages will hopefully outlive us. I hope the environment outlives us as well, and felt the need to state that my Print E-mails campaign is not a knock against my publicist (she’s wonderful) or the exceptional planet where we live and breath and have our being.

Letter to the New York Times Editor

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

With regards to the article: IN THE ’60s, A FUTURE CANDIDATE POURED HER HEART OUT IN LETTERS by MARK LEIBOVICH (July 29): Thank you for the glimpse into the collegiate dalliances and uncertainties of Hillary Clinton through the letters she wrote to John Pevoy. The snippets shown (I regret but understand that they were not able to be reprinted in their entirety) offer access to the refreshingly unpolished thoughts of a young woman even Mrs. Clinton doesn’t know anymore. That is the beauty of letters—they capture the musings and emotions of the moment but last a lifetime and beyond. We may very well be witnessing the last generation to have their stories told in their own words through letters. This is tragic. Without leaving tangible, eloquent evidence of ourselves, our descendants will think our lives are as emotionally void as our IMs and MySpace pages—which have yet to prove staying power. And if our online profiles ultimately expire, then what honest portraits of daily life have we painted?