Read the Fifth

November 25, 2015

Three years ago this week I went on SLUH’s 57th Kairos with around 50 of my classmates. I’d heard almost exclusively positive reviews on the four-day retreat, but no one ever specified why. Ten months prior, I had one of the most formative experiences of my life on the Junior White House retreat. As l told Clark every Thursday night in the Prep News office in the month between his Kairos experience and mine, no way could Kairos pass up White House for me.

On the second night, I found out that I was wrong. (If you haven’t gone on Kairos but plan to, stop reading immediately.)

Letters are extremely powerful tools of communication. I’ve mentioned in previous posts are powerful language is, particularly carefully chosen words. But letters today are rare. Instead we rely on rapid text messages that become lost among thousands upon thousands of other short texts or on Snapchats that disappear forever in a matter of seconds. I actually really appreciate these types of media, but it’s disappointing nonetheless that they’ve driven letters as endangered as pandas. The torn edges and stained pages of handwritten letters have been replaced by hearts, stars, and fire emojis on Snapchat. The half-cursive or all-caps or slightly slanted or narrow or bubbly or d’s-that-flow-into-e’s-that-flow-into-l’s of each person’s distinct handwriting are now standardized as Arial on our phone screens.

(Seriously. Let this part of the retreat be a surprise and then after you return read this post. Okay. Good.)

The second night of Kairos is letter night. As I said, the second night made me realize that Kairos would be even more influential and perhaps more important than White House. The majority of the letters I’ve collected over the years came from that one night on Kairos (a few also come from my time abroad last semester). That night was three years ago, the week of Thanksgiving 2012. Tonight I reread them for the second time in those three years. I’ve lost touch with some of the scribes, but even those people generally had a major impact on me. Others I catch up with every few months. The rest remain close to me. From them all I gleaned something amazing in their love and friendship. I’d love to share each of those interactions, but one of the wonderful things about letters is how personal they are, and as such, I’ll instead keep those memories and words to myself. Anyone with their own stash of letters will understand.

Not all of the letters are quality; the cookie-cutter templates some sent to all of the retreatants were impersonal, and some felt like strange platforms for quasi-agendas. Regardless, outside of those occasionally dull letters, the ones that left an impact way back when still have an influence when I read them now, despite the many experiences I’ve had since then that have changed my in ways both slight and significant (how strange it is that the time difference between Kairos and today is the same as that between freshman and senior year—I changed immensely in those three years).

At some point along the way I’ll revisit all the letters I’ve received again. When that day comes, I know I’ll have changed, but I’m not sure exactly how. Reading those notes will likely remind me how I felt each time I read them previously, and then I should have a good base to reflect on everything. But I really just hope that letters don’t go extinct, lest we should lose a most valuable type of personal contact.


“This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 “Roses” by The Chainsmokers