Fresh out of college, Hannah Brencher moved to New York, expecting her life to look like a scene from Sex and the City. Lonely and depressed, she noticed a woman who looked like she felt the same way on the subway. Hannah did something strange—she wrote the woman a letter. She folded it, scribbled “If you find this letter, it’s for you…” on the front and left it behind. She then started writing and leaving love notes all over the city. Feeling crushed within a culture that only felt like connecting on a screen, she poured her heart out to complete strangers. She found solace in the idea that her words might brighten someone’s day. Then Hannah made an offer on her blog: She would handwrite a note and mail it to anyone who wanted one. Her inbox exploded with requests from people all over the world. There is something about receiving a handwritten note that is so powerful in today’s digital era. If You Find This Letter chronicles Hannah’s attempts to bring more love into the world—and shows how she rediscovered her faith through the movement she started.
"My mother would say: be small or be beautiful. Beautiful is loud footsteps and knowing the weight of those footsteps."
I first stumbled upon Hannah Brencher's website a few years ago. I thought it was a beautiful concept, the thought of writing love letters to strangers. I was so excited to be approved for the ARC from NetGalley. Now memoirs are kind of hit or miss with me. As fascinated as I am by the person, sometimes I can still find them a bit dry and long winded. I have never read a memoir that made me cry. I have never read a memoir that I wanted to read again the second I was finished. Until this one.
The book starts with Hannah graduating from college. She is terrified of growing up and terrified that she will never make a difference in the world. She also struggles with depression, something that is hard for her to come to terms with because of her many blessings. I could relate to this feeling on so many levels. I know what it's like to feel like you are drowning, despite the fact that you have everything in your life going right at that very moment. Hannah is young and insecure and afraid. Who can't relate to that?
When the letter writing starts, she is simply trying to tell other people the words she cannot tell herself. She wants to tell people, strangers, they are loved and they matter. As she says in the book, this project didn't become a cure all for her depression. She still struggled, but the letters gave her purpose. She didn't just talk about the letters. She also talked about her search for religion and a relationship with God. She was desperate for something higher than herself to believe in. I do want to say that I am atheist and I wasn't expecting this to be as religion heavy as it was. Normally, I would probably skim those parts. But I found every passage of her search for God so incredibly moving. Even though I don't believe, I still understand why she would want to so desperately.
Hannah also talks about the progression of the love letter journey. It goes from being random letters to strangers to a blog where she invites people to make love letter requests for themselves. When she talks about all the requests people were sending in to request a love letter, I think I was as moved as Hannah was. It is impossible to comprehend just how much sadness and heartbreak there is in the world. I can only imagine how overwhelmed Hannah was to start these letters. It is amazing that so many people were so sad and a couple of words from Hannah helped them keep going. Now she has a website, The World Needs More Love Letters. On this website, you can request a love letter on behalf of someone else. Every month, she publishes the stories of several people that were sent in and requests everyone who can to send a love letter to Hannah. At the end of the month, Hannah then takes all of those letters and sends them to the person in one package. She calls it a "love letter bundle."
The stories in this book were very emotional, but I don't want you to think that the tears I cried were sad ones. Even in the sad stories, I was hopeful that all these people would know how much people were thinking of them. What did make me sad was that in this digital age, people may never be able to appreciate the simple beauty of a handwritten letter. The only downside to this book was that I finished it in less than twenty four hours. I wanted to soak up and savor every single word that Hannah wrote. I am so grateful to her for sharing this journey. It also inspired me to go on her website. I want to share words of kindness and strength to people who need them, even if I don't know these people and even if I never meet them. If I ever got a love letter from Hannah, I think it would be my most prized possession. Her writing is exquisite and lyrical and somehow she always finds the right words to make someone feel like they matter. I encourage you to submit a letter to one of the individuals on the website as well.