Unimaginable trauma and cruelty didn't break them. Their letters will tell you why.
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.
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."
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.
"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.”