True
Letters of Peace

When it comes to sending a message to someone you love, nothing lasts like a letter.

Notes that are written by hand, that we can hold in our own, are so powerful. We can feel the weight of the paper, the texture of the ink, and see the emotion carried through the pen from the hand of the person who wrote it. This is especially true with a message of peace.

Earlier this year, the Paper and Packaging — How Life UnfoldsTM campaign reached out to people across America who had endured unimaginable trauma and cruelty. They survived terrorist attacks, school shootings, and the horrors of human trafficking. One was bullied relentlessly for much of her young life. Another lost a family member to suicide. They faced devastating, life-altering challenges and somehow came out with their faith in humanity intact.


Each of these survivors was asked to handwrite a one-page letter to the world, sharing their story — and their message of peace.

Watch the powerful, emotional video here:

Hardly anyone grows up expecting to endure hardship and tragedy. Asia Graves never did.

From ages 16-18, she was sold in cities along the U.S. East Coast, a victim of human trafficking. Though she eventually escaped and worked with the FBI to bring some of her attackers to justice, the pain, anger, and trauma remained. "I always thought that no person on this planet would ever love me and that I was worthless in the eyes of everyone around me," she writes in her letter. "But when I started to love myself, flaws and all, I was able to recognize the love and compassion in others."

For years, Jodee Blanco was continuously bullied and ostracized by her classmates for being different.

Jodee Blanco. All images via Letters of Peace/YouTube.

Through forgiveness and reflection, she's learned to welcome those same people back into her life. "I learned the ability to forgive is the greatest gift you can give yourself and others," she writes. "If there's a painful memory you can't erase, instead of letting it consume you, turn your pain into purpose."

Cliff Molak, whose younger brother David committed suicide to escape cyberbullying, agrees.

"The only way to end suffering in this nation ... is not to highlight differences between groups of people, but to focus on the importance of accountability and character."

Anti-bullying activist Cliff Molak.

Heather Egeland, a survivor of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, experienced grief and depression for years. Remembering that our world is interconnected helped bring her back.

"I believe that if we took the time to notice, we'd see we're infinitely more connected by our similarities than divided by our differences," she writes. "The truth is none of us are alone. All we have to do is take notice."

Patrick Downes was at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon when the first bomb exploded. He lost his leg as a result of the explosion, but not his faith in the world.

Boston Marathon bombing survivor Patrick Downes.

"Some might say that we in Boston were victims of violence, but I see us as ambassadors for peace," he writes. "The smallest and largest signs of peace send a message that peaceful and caring societies will always triumph over those who attempt to break us apart."

This year, especially, when so many dark moments seem to drown out the bright, sharing handwritten letters from the heart can make a difference.

If you are inspired by these stories, please share your own. Find a quiet corner, a fresh piece of paper, and a pen, and sit down to craft your own handwritten letter of peace to the world. Send it to one person or the world, sharing on social media with the hashtag #lettersofpeace.

As Patrick Downes powerfully ends his letter: "Hate will always fall victim to love. My town, family, wife and I choose love.”

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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