"I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you"

On December 2, 1980 four American churchwomen working with the poor in El Salvador – Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missioner Jean Donovan – were kidnapped, abused and murdered by the US backed military of El Salvador. In the end they met the same fate as thousands of the unnamed poor of El Salvador who were killed or disappeared.

What follows is an except from a letter written by Ita Ford to her niece and goddaughter Jennifer a few months before her murder. I found it somewhere online and used it last year in an Advent Peace Vigil. It takes the abstract and makes it very real in the every day sense.

August 18, 1980
Dear Jennifer,

The odds that this note will arrive for your birthday are poor, but know I'm with you in spirit as you celebrate 16 big ones. …

What I want to say...some of it isn't too jolly birthday talk, but it's real... Yesterday I stood looking down at a 16-year-old who had been killed a few hours earlier. I know a lot of kids even younger who are dead. This is a terrible time in El Salvador for youth. A lot of idealism and commitment is getting snuffed out here now. …

Brooklyn is not passing through the drama of El Salvador, but some things hold true wherever one is, and at whatever age. What I'm saying is, I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you...something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for...something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can't tell you what it might be -- that's for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search. Maybe this sounds weird and off-the-wall, and maybe, no one else will talk to you like this, but then, too, I'm seeing and living things that others around you aren't...

I want to say to you: don't waste the gifts and opportunities you have to make yourself and other people happy... I hope this doesn't sound like some kind of a sermon because I don't mean it that way. Rather, it's something you learn here, and I want to share it with you. In fact, it's my birthday present to you. If it doesn't make sense right at this moment, keep this and read it sometime from now. Maybe it will be clearer...

A very happy birthday to you and much, much love,


Susan said...

Thanks, Susan, for sharing that letter today. What a strong message and a great beginning for Advent. It is good that this anniversary comes today.
I hope you are well and that your Advent season is full of God's gifts..

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...

A friend asked me what Ita meant by telling her god-daughter "...don't
waste the gifts and opportunities you have to make yourself and other
people happy...".

This was my response: I think what she was getting at was that there are more important things than pleasing people. One of our presenters at our Intercommunity Program talks about the "Unholy Trinity" - Pleasing, Perfectionism, and Performance. He says that when we operate from these centers & motivations, life gets distorted. Instead of trying to please people, he says we need to work how to negotiate and resolve conflict. Instead of being focused on our or others' performance, we should focus on nconditional love and acceptance. And instead of trying to do everything perfectly, to be authenticly who we are.

So I think Ita Ford was trying to tell her niece that she should find what is important to her, what will make a difference in the world, what will improve her life and the lives of those around her, and live from that reality. Rather than trying to do what is expected by society or her peers