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"I was tremendously moved by Aunt Sadie's Letters of Hope & Healing. They are a poignant reminder of Jewish suffering during previous pandemics, and how community and love helped the hardest hit survive pain, disability, and seemingly unbearable isolation. Aunt Sadie's voice calls out across the decades with what all of us need right now: inspiration and encouragement to persevere amidst the storm."

"Positively, passionately pure; Thoughts on “Aunt Sadie’s Letters of Hope & Healing” by Shari Lyn Anderson

I have never read anything like “Aunt Sadie’s Letters of Hope & Healing” by “Shari Lyn Anderson” and I mean that in the best and most amazed way. On one hand, it is a series of letters—often including a poem—written to a 10-year-old, bedridden girl in the 1940s by her aunt, clearly intended to keep her spirit up. You may think that the simple description does not make this book enticing enough for you to invest the time to read it. But, you would be wrong, as the experience of reading such an unusual tome is more rewarding than most of the literature produced today. I was amazed by the qualities the book emanated, including its timelessness, sweetness, inherent value system, and efficient use of pedagogy.

It is a timeless tome, not just because familial love is timeless but also because it could have been written in any of the last 300 years or so. There are barely any references to the era’s technology, economic or political challenges, which makes it refreshingly out of time. By this omission, it manages to focus on the important aspects of life, including interpersonal relationships. I particularly appreciate this in our modern busy life, as the slow and introspective nature of the book allowed – no, more like forced – me to match my reading pace to it. No distraction by fancy gadgets, luxury or poverty, or issues beyond one’s immediate health. Thus, if you want to step out from your life and get distracted by timeless themes but do not want to run along a fast-paced page-turner, this book is for you too.

The opposite of cruelty is sweetness. Aunt Sadie’s letters and poems are the embodiment of sweetness. As you know, even if you never thought of it, sweetness in writing style refers to the use of language and literary techniques that evoke positive emotions, pleasure, or a sense of delight in the reader. That is exactly the effect this book had on me. I was just filled with empathy and wide smiles as I was reading sentences like this;

Do you know why I was so joyful? It was because you were so smiley and cheerful, and you continue to have your very sweet disposition (page 23)

Good to know that somehow, we always get exactly what we need, although it is sometimes a little hard to understand this. (30)

You are thankful for everything you can do, be it much or small. (89)

I believe that something beautiful and worthwhile can come out of the most ordinary article, if we only have the right thoughts about it. (112)

None of the above would be enough for me to like the book if the value system transpiring from the book were radically different from mine. It does not take a lot of decoding to understand what Aunt Sadie believes in. The second half of the letters includes a boldfaced, all-capital word or expression towards their end. These include: hurray, courage, purity, patience, love, cheerfulness, thoughtfulness, harmony, nobility, honesty, laughter, and many similar inspiring terms. I wonder how they looked visually on the original handwritten letters. On the pages of the book, they are a bit disjointed from the rest of the text. Or, to put it in a positive way, they really stand out. If you just page through the book, the poems and these terms pop out. I could not resist playing the empathy game and thinking about how the recipient of these letters reacted to these words. I imagine them as commands, calling for actions or at least focal points of the mind. They must have counteracted, at least to some degree, the everyday drudgery of being immobile. They certainly had that effect on me, and they might have the same effect on other readers too. Do not resist this effect: it will make your life and mood better.

Context matters. Pedagogy is an art and a learnable skill. Reading the words of Aunt Sadie, I could not help but admire her natural (or learned) talent for teaching a young girl about the world. The pedagogical devices she used in these letters included all the classics like storytelling, role-playing, encouraging reflections, art, and mindfulness… For me, as an adult reader, it was obvious what she was trying to accomplish. But for a young mind it may have been less so. Based on the introduction by the author of the book, the mission was accomplished, and the little girl grew up to be a kind and passionate adult. The author is the daughter of said little girl, so she has firsthand observations of the matter.

I don’t wish on anybody the long hospitalization the author’s mother went through as a child. But I do wish an aunt like Aunt Sadie to everybody. It could elevate the level of kindness of the human race. Alas that is not possible. So the second best thing I can recommend: read the book."

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