About a month ago, bestselling author Elizabeth Berg received this letter from Vanessa Shaw in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s not just an example of a great message from a reader to an author; it’s a powerful testament to fiction’s ability to touch our lives. We couldn’t resist sharing it–please forward it to anyone in your life who loves to read!
May 5, 2011
I live in Phoenix. I am 33 and have been married for 10 years in November. My husband, Gary, and I have five young children: Owen, Annabelle, Miles, Margaret, and Charlotte (8, 7, 5, 4, 3, respectively). We are Catholic (did you guess?) and for the past few years, we have all given up television for Lent. This year, I also decided to read. In the period of about 40 days, I read over half of your books, some in one sitting, some in two days, one I downloaded to listen to.
I am moved by your writing. I have taken away a special kind of wisdom from each story, from each character. We are going through a difficult time now as my husband battles some kind of illness that is not diagnosed yet, despite our visits to Barrow Neurological Institute. Going to Mayo Clinic this month is giving us new hope, though.
I share about his issue so that you will know of your impact on how I am dealing with it. My learned or natural way of being would be to become distant and robotic in taking on the caregiver role with him. I would distance myself out of protection, out of a desire to survive this challenge emotionally and to still take care of my children’s needs and my own. But after I read your words, in various books, I was able to shift my way of being to really treasure every moment–a goal I am constantly renewing within myself–but now it’s less of a conscious renewal and more natural.
When I read your words, I feel like you’re speaking for me, like I’m the one dealing with the issue at hand, like I’m the one who is hurting or healing or finding her way. It’s like being able to live life surrogately (which is definitely not a word!), having all of the benefits of living another’s life yet still getting to live in my own world. Then I can apply what I learn from you and your characters’ lives to my own life–and it’s lasting, too. It’s not a new wave of false hope or something I could ever forget about or lose interest in.
The way that your characters experience life, especially their ability to push themselves through their depression and pain, has taught me so much. It’s like I needed to be shown an example. I know all women deal with the things I deal with in my head. I know they do, but another thing about me is that I don’t open up very easily. People I “know” seem to want to believe what they want to believe about me and my life, based on our blessings, our appearance, or whatever, so it’s not often that when I do share, that they even HEAR what I’m saying about depression, eating issues, body image disorder, daily struggles of being an educated, accomplished women who stays home to serve her family, marriage, etc. I’ve really given up on people; I don’t trust anyone fully.
If I had the types of real friendships that many of your characters either had, have or develop, then I would likely have many of the same types of conversations. I’d bare my soul and tell the real truth about how I struggle. I do see the benefit of taking risks and trying to build the friendships I have from high school, from college, and even some new moms at my kids’ school. Funny to say “risk” and “friendships” in relation to each other, but for me, it really is a risk. I’d be risking my precious time; I could be with my kids or Gary instead of them. I’d be risking so much just by saying the truth and not knowing for sure if they would really get me or take it our of context, or gossip or judge. It makes me anxious to think it. But I now believe it is possible to have at least one real friend besides my husband.
Thank you for taking the time to write your books. Thank you for using your life experience and your imagination to share stories that have made a marked difference in my life.