Grandma Says to Pull Out A Brick!

“This past summer I came across a stash of letters written to me by the greatest writer I have yet to truly know, my Grandma Agnes. She wrote to me often during my college years, her letters always typewritten, each word carefully chosen. What’s incredible is as much as I loved receiving her letters then, as a young journalism major, her words are even more meaningful and relevant to my life now.

As word got to her that I seemed “depressed” transitioning to college life far from family, she encouraged me to journal — “not to be confused with keeping a diary”, she cautioned. “God may want you to know that you need not fight any battles alone. Admit your need and limitations.”

journal AgnesShe shared with me the writers who inspired her, including a Benedictine nun from Nebraska who believed “writing one’s thoughts forces one to seek and relish the truth. And it matters not if the scribblings are never read by any other than the author. The catharsis is for you.”

Oh, wise Grandma, what truth you bring to me this Thanksgiving! Though I am not depressed like I may have been in those first college months, I am rigid. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, I’m strong-willed. Whatever it is, I must admit (as Grandma suggests I do) I had grown fond of the world I grew up in, a world in which I thought I knew all the rules. That world no longer exists. The social norms in which I’m raising four young children seem to be a la carte, pick only what you want, interpret the rules as you may and to each their own!

I long to be a child again, ignorant of others’ political leanings, others’ religious affiliations or atheist attitudes, and blind to everyone’s status updates. I want to embrace the otherness of the world — to learn from those I do not understand, to listen to those who may not understand me.

That’s why when I read my Grandma’s journal entry that she shared with me from 1984, I felt relief. She, too, felt what I feel today. She felt the brick wall between “others” and she sought a way to break through it.

pope brick Agnes letter

Three decades ago, she shared with me the powerful words of the pope, who inspired Christians to pull out the bricks built between us. We all have brick walls in our lives, those who we feel are unrelatable, unmistakably wrong in their views. But what if we saw them as a brick worth pulling out — to see and to understand what’s on the other side.

This Thanksgiving I pray that we all find a way to pull out a brick, “to share, trust, exchange and even imitate”, as Grandma Agnes did, the good we are sure to find in each other when we come together and simply listen and love each other. And I hope to write one day to my granddaughter in her college dorm about the glorious day I saw the walls crumbling down.


  1. Valerie Probst

    Next time you are home Emily, we will have to look at Grandma Agnes’ 14 spiral notebooks of journaling. Sarah has them in a plastic tub thinking that we should document them someday. Remember the time at the lake when we read her letters to her young siblings in Neoga about teaching the Irish children in Venezuela? She was in her early 20’s. Keep up the good writing. I am proud of you!

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