The power of a single letter

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So because it’s been raining nonstop for 100-straight days here in Southern California, yesterday evening I went to the garage to shove some towels beneath a door. While there, I tried lifting a file cabinet, which was collecting moisture at the base. It wouldn’t budge, so I tried again. And again. And again.

My arms thin and weak, I gave up, and opened one of the drawers to look inside. There were papers upon papers upon papers, including a yellowed envelope filled with old documents. This is where I discovered my all-time favorite long-lost letter.

It was dated March 16, 1993, and was written on Boston Magazine stationary. The three pages were typed by Steve Buckley, a writer for the publication. A few months earlier I’d applied for an internship, but heard nothing and presumed the worst. I was becoming numb to this sort of thing—I probably submitted materials for 100 internships, with no luck.

Anyhow, this wasn’t a rejection note. Or an acceptance note. It was a detailed breakdown of all my clips, with praise, criticism, constructive thoughts. Steve, a man I’d never met, clearly took a tremendous amount of time, for no other reason than to help a guy in need of the stuff.

The last paragraph is the one that did it for me …

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I loved writing. Loved, loved, loved writing. But until that moment, no one had told me I had any talent, or could be “a player in this game.” The words lifted me off the ground; brought music to my soul; made me want to work that much harder.

The letter is also why, 24 years later, I try my best, when asked, to help young writers as Steve Buckley helped me.

Because a kind word goes a long way.

1 thought on “The power of a single letter”

  1. Dear Jeff: Thank you for sharing this post. I’m not at all surprised you received such a supportive letter from Steve. In 1979, when he was working at the Westfield Evening News, he had the unenviable assignment of babysitting a stringer from the local high school who had never written an actual news story before (me). He was kind, patient, generous, supportive and so incredibly talented and smart. He could have snuffed out my spirit or dismissed me as a know-nothing kid and no one would have known or cared. Steve moved on to bigger and better things not long after, yet here we are 38 years later — you a quarter century — and the grace of this man, his quiet acts of kindness, resonate with us both. I imagine there are many others with similar stories. Hero. Thanks again and best wishes.

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