Through the years, Letters Never Sent
has gone through various mutations. Originally, I called it Letters I Never Wrote
because they were written when I was 39 years old, not when I was physically the age each letter represents. Emotionally, of course, I was at the age I wrote from. In other words, as I began my first letter, “Dear Mom and Dad,” as if I had picked up a pen my first night in boarding school, the feelings of that night overwhelmed me
. I felt the same squeezing in my chest I felt when the lights were turned out and my parents weren’t there to tuck me in and say goodnight. The same sobbing tears began again as my emotions transported me 33 years back in time and space. The process of that original writing was an attempt to grab words to describe these feelings as my adult self seemed to be observing in almost a detached way what was happening internally as I relived these earlier moments in my life.Some have asked how I could have remembered these times so clearly. I explain that I didn’t remember them, I was reliving them. One friend, however, disagreed. She said, “I don’t think you were reliving them. I think you are living them emotionally for the first time.
When these separations and other things happened, you did everything you could not to feel the pain, to push that aside, so you could go on. Now you let yourself feel them and find words and tears to express them in a way you never did when they were happening in the present for you.”
And I have to say she was also correct in that. At any rate, that is why my original title was Letters I Never Wrote in my attempt to describe this process. But in the early days, I couldn’t find a publisher. Many said, “It’s a nice story, Ruth, but personal stories don’t sell… especially stories of children of missionaries.” While I tried to convince them it wasn’t only a “missionary kid” story but one that had more universal lessons and just happened to have occurred in this context, I found no one who would take the risk. And so the first edition was printed by a friend who had a printing business and just came off the computer typeset. I didn’t want him to spend extra money to have it properly formatted because he had told me I didn’t need to pay him unless I sold some copies so I didn’t want him – or me – to take an extra thousand dollar risk! My daughter had an idea for the cover: a simple letter with the beginning, “Dear Mom and Dad” and a pencil lying across that page.
In time, however, a publisher did call me and they wanted to publish it with the title, Letters Never Sent. Originally, I objected. I told them I had written many letters in my life I had never sent as it was a great way to vent or express myself but often the better part of valor was simply not to send them. This was different. These were letters I didn’t even know I needed to write.
I lost that battle. The publicist told me that if I hadn’t written them, they wouldn’t even be there to put into a book! While I felt they didn’t quite understand me, I was so happy someone would now publish it. I let them go ahead… and we went through the long process then of helping folks understand it was basically the same book as before (their editor added the dates to the chapters, etc). During the years the publisher had the book, I went back to my nursing career and worked in an Alzheimer unit as there had been some backlash and I didn’t know exactly where to go or not go next.But, because the publisher had it, the book went on even while I worked in my little secure, locked unit with my special Alzheimer friends.After about two years of doing that, the publisher let the book go out of print, but a book club called and wanted to use it so I asked the publisher for the rights back and republished it myself. I kept the title they had given it by then as it seemed too confusing to restore it to the other title.
About that same time, in talking with Dave Pollock, I offered to help him write his material into what is now the Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds
book. Because of that, I stopped my nursing career and went to my basement for about seven years! During those years, Letters Never Sent (LNS) sold steadily as it remained one of the few books at that point that represented an adult TCK’s story
.Once Third Culture Kids
came out, however, more of the focus in my talks and responses centered on that book. While LNS continued to sell periodically, I assumed it had mostly seen its light of day. When Jo Parfitt first asked to republish the book, I demurred as I didn’t know if it still had much value.
After all, by now there is a plethora of books related to expat living and TCK matters. Why would anyone still care about my story?
In the end, Jo convinced me by asking me to write a new epilogue, even while the letters remain as they were before. She thought people might like to know what had happened since, and because of, the process of private journaling I began so many years ago in my bedroom in Liberia. I had always wished I could give a little bit more of “the rest of the story” as LNS basically looked at the parts of my life that I had never let myself discover before because it had always seemed to do so would negate the wonderful gifts and life I had lived and loved. But such a report didn’t seem worthy of an entire book… and here Jo had offered me the perfect opportunity to simply explain the wonder and mystery in trying to understand this ‘underside’ of my life, instead of it being a shame that I hadn’t been braver or whatever; these harder experiences were also part of my gifting when I was willing to be honest and process them too.
And so, with Jo’s high encouragement, I dared to try to write for others the inner and outer journeys I have taken because of this simple act of journaling. I did this new epilogue and edition not so much because my specific story is so important, but as an example of the surprising and wonderful things that can happen when we follow that one “next step” that moves us further into our own healing journey
and creates a passion to do something with what we learn for others too. I am awed and humbled at the places I have been privileged to be and what I have been asked to do, which all started with one moment in a house in Liberia when I took up my pen and wrote the first “Dear Mom and Dad…” I hope the deeper lessons of that journaling will also still give places of connection and understanding to all who read the new edition as well.Thanks, Jo, for your vision to republish this. Thanks Renata, for asking me to write a bit on it…
For more on Ruth’s work, see www.crossculturalkid.org
The latest edition of Letters Never Sent: A Global Nomad’s Journey from Hurt to Healing (Summertime, 2012) is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle.