Those We Love with What We Write


ne summer afternoon, a chaplain made his way leisurely from room to room in the surgical recovery unit of a large hospital in Nashville, Ten- nessee, visiting with patients and family members. In one room he discovered a man in a hospital gown sitting in a chair by the window reading one of the thick books that made up J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. “Oh, Tolkien,” the chaplain remarked.


“Do you like his work?” The patient sighed. “Actually I do enjoy it. More than I thought I would. I knew I was going to be spending several days here after my operation and I fi gured I’d read something to occupy my time. It does take my mind off everything.” “I know what you mean,” the chaplain said, nodding. “Every couple of years when I start to feel worn out, I read through his trilogy and The Hobbit. The feeling I get when I read his work is sort of like stroking a cat.” He sat down on the win- dow ledge. “That’s exactly what Tolkien intended, you know.” “Oh,” the patient replied, “why’s that?” “He wrote the trilogy for his son. His

boy was a British pilot during World War II. Tolkien would write long pieces of Lord of the Rings and send them to him as a way of taking his son’s mind off of what he was going through.” The patient refl ected silently, then nod-

ded. “Well it still works.” Long before Tolkien’s trilogy was adapt- ed to the Academy Award winning series of movies, it was a staple for generations of readers. It’s enlightening to know that the author, an English philology professor, gave no thought to the millions of readers who would immerse themselves in his monumental fantasy novels. Tolkien was simply trying to minister to his son in the best way he knew. While we might never intentionally

think of it this way, our written words have always been a balm to those we care about. As the biblical poet put it 3500 years ago, “Like cool water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (Prov- erbs 25:25). All the junk mail in the world is pushed aside the instant we spy a hand- written personal letter in the mail.

Sue, a long-term summer camp director, prides herself on knowing how to deal with homesick campers. “I keep an eye out for those kids who are moping around, who get real weepy about suppertime. I call their parents and tell them to write a per- sonal letter with lots of information about what’s going on and how proud they are that their child is doing so well. When the kids get their letters, they perk right up. Of course, half the time the parents will tell me they want the kids to write them back.” The advent of email and text messages

has not changed, but rather intensifi ed the phenomenon of the written embrace. Hard as it is to believe, the average smart phone

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