So. . .we are in the middle of packing. See previous blog on moving. Argh. We are wrapping and boxing and culling. Of course that means going through a mountain of accumulated. . . Stuff. I was handed three tubs of papers and told to go through them. They were labeled “Old Letters”.
Now, to understand this scenario, you must know something about our mother, Barbara. She was a dedicated, vigilant keeper, collector, one might say hoarder, of everything. When we moved Doug out of their home after her death, every drawer that we opened had 70 years of . . . Stuff. She had microfiche film of Doug’s grades in college. She had her perfect attendance at Sunday School award from 4th grade. She had every, I mean every, card that anyone had ever given her. She never wanted to throw anything away because she might need it or it had some sentimental attachment. Barbara was not an outwardly sentimental gal, but her drawers belied her inner feelings.
The office was the same way. She never ever threw anything away. We found backup cassette tapes for an accounting system that we used in 2000 carefully packed in a box. Check registers from 1990. Boxes of used rubber bands. Multiple copies of every catalog or newsletter ever produced by InSight beginning in 1982. Old broken pencil erasers that she fixed with scotch tape. You just never know.
We have giggled and remarked upon this trait in our mother, until we find it popping up in our own dealings with. . .Stuff. Sister, Kathy, was packing a glass candle and the base broke off. She said, “Oh well, it can be glued” and started to put it in the box. All I had to say was, “Barbara” and she grinned and bravely threw it away. The first step is admitting you have a problem. So, this move has been an exercise in purging and practicality and hanging on to memories.
Back to the tub of “Old Letters”. When Doug and Barbara first began InSight Books in 1982, it was a true leap of faith over the cliff. Doug had been a pastor his entire life. Barbara had taught piano lessons and raised four daughters. What did they know about the publishing world and how to navigate the intricacies of publicity and networking and marketing? But, Doug had one thing going for him. He was a killer writer of letters.
When I opened the tubs, I was overwhelmed first by how organized they were. Barbara had carefully labeled each letter and they were in the appropriate file folder for the subject. The letters were typed on letterhead and at the bottom had the classic “DM/bm” that we were taught in typing class. For those of you who have never typed a letter or took typing class, a proper business letter had initials for the author and for the typist or secretary. So every letter had DM for Doug Manning and bm for Barbara Manning.
And then I began to read. Letters of thanks following a speaking engagement. Letters of follow up after a promising business meeting. Letters of condolence to hundreds of people who wrote to him after reading one of his books. Letters of friendship. An entire ream of letters after his trips to Australia and New Zealand thanking his hosts for their hospitality. Letters of serious business.
Doug had surgery in 1993 and afterwards had an ongoing problem with complications. They finally figured out that the surgeon had left part of a sponge in the surgical area. Of course, that screams lawsuit. I found the letter that he sent to the surgeon explaining that he had no intention of suing him, but did not feel that he, or his insurance company, should have to pay for the follow up procedure to remove the foreign object that had been left there by mistake. It was kind and forthright and very unexpected that a patient wasn’t sending an attorney to knock down his door. The surgeon got all huffy and told Doug to just sue him, after he had clearly told him he wasn’t going to. Some people.
After going through the tubs of “Old Letters”, I told Doug that I was very impressed. He was much more diligent about follow up and thank yous than I am after a speaking engagement. He said “I was hungry. I had to constantly be out there”. Actually, I think it is more than that.
We’ve all bemoaned the loss of personal contact in this digital age and there is definitely something valid about the concern. We don’t talk. We text. We don’t write letters. We email. We don’t enjoy a vacation. We post it on Instagram. Maybe we would all be a little better off if we sat down and wrote a letter. To someone we haven’t heard from in a while. To someone who needs to hear kind words. To someone who needs to be forgiven. To someone who has touched our lives and deserves to know how important they are.
One of Doug’s favorite lines in his letters to a person who had sent him a heartfelt note was “I received your letter. It was the rain on my desert.” That’s a pretty powerful line. Maybe we all need to be the rain on someone else’s desert.
I think this is a great idea. However, I’m busy packing right now, so don’t watch your mailbox for anything from me until next month. And, yes, I channeled Barbara and kept all of those letters. Sentimental? Maybe. A part of our history? Definitely. Back to the . . .stuff.
(note: Because of the move, this blog did not get posted until now, after the move. How amazing that Glenda sat down to write a blog in the midst of the chaos. We are now settled in to our new offices and have no excuse for failing to write those heartfelt notes.)
Glenda Stansbury is Marketing Director of InSight Books and Co-Founder of InSight Institute Certified Celebrant Program. She is also a speaker, a trainer, and an observer of life, and one of Doug Manning’s adorable and talented daughters. You may email Glenda at OrdersAndInfo@InSightBooks.com.