On Not Hearing Back

A modest proposal on the phenomenon of letters sent but unanswered


Community Virtue

“Well, did you ever hear back”?

You thought you’d ask her, since two weeks ago your spouse “fired off” a letter to a chap whose head isn’t on straight. Or maybe you ask the same of the secretary of a committee (a group graced by your presence). After all, you’d helped draft a sober analysis sent a month ago to an organization that needs direction.

But no, your spouse never heard back; and, no, the committee didn’t either. Plus, a friend, like a Greek Chorus, chimes in, “You didn’t really think you would, did you”?

The epistolary phenomenon of letters sent but unanswered is picking up momentum. It was foreshadowed by the near demise of the RSVP. What’s going on? Who’s to blame?

From my own experience, I can identify the usual and doubtless responsible suspects.

First come political figures, high and low. Gavin Newsom, my governor and ex officio minder of the nation’s nuclear arsenal, never answers my letters to him explaining why I won’t contribute a cent to his newest campaign, much less the three bucks he wants. Alex Padilla, my city councilperson, never answers my letters to him explaining why, as a public Catholic, he should blow a small whistle on California’s slaughter of the unborn innocent.

Next come the judges who jail brave and nonviolent abortion resisters for Red Rose Rescue interventions. Monica Migliorino Miller, an NOR contributing editor, has just received a sentence from a Michigan judge who, you bet, has heard from me.

Not to be forgotten are the presidents of quasi-Catholic universities. They never answer my letters urging them to resign or engage in public debate. The bright side, I suppose, is that they no longer have the temerity to ask me for donations.

My penultimate group of non-respondents is a coterie of journalists for the L.A. Times. They are complicit in their employer’s routine attacks on pregnancy care centers and tight-lipped about the rising number of acts of vandalism against these same centers. I make it a point to let them know that their malfeasance is duly noted.

Last, and with sorrow, I’ll mention the Catholic bishops of California, my leaders in the faith. Too often they outsource their replies to inquiries about how the Church presents itself in the public square. But PR spin and glossy brochures simply won’t suffice.

To all these persons of interest I say, ANSWER YOUR MAIL! Excuses are profuse but perfunctory. No time? Make time! Not enough staff? Few of your correspondents have any staff at all.

It’s said that we live in a time “after virtue.” Not so, even if we are deficient in virtuous actions. But answering one’s mail is rather less than a virtue. It is common courtesy. (With two exceptions: there’s no duty to reply to a letter written with uncommon discourtesy nor to letters stemming from disordered minds.)

Now comes, gentle reader, my modest proposal. Let those who would mend their ways pay attention. Start fresh and answer your mail. It won’t be that hard. When necessary, rely on a few pithy stamps, for example, “Read, but strongly disagree,” “Read, but irrelevant,” and even the blunt “Read, so now put your money and/or time where your mouth is.”

What do you think? Feel free to answer me, and if you do expect an answer.

To be sure, epistolary activism won’t solve all our problems. It can, however, help highlight many of them. And here’s a last thought, writing this in Holy Week and so with a measure of self-reflection: It does not escape me that we do, all of us, always hear back from God. So, if today we hear His voice, let us harden not our hearts.


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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