Friday, 3 September 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

Last night I opened my letterbox and found two neatly hand-addressed envelopes with UK stamps. How odd, I thought; the only hand-written letters I get from the UK are thank-you notes (and I couldn't remember doing anything particularly thankworthy) and wedding invites (and I hadn't seen anyone changing their status to "is engaged" on Facebook).

I opened the first envelope while walking to the metro. The sender's address, carefully placed in the top-right corner, sounded very charming, rural and English.

"Dear Sophie," the letter began. "I am intrigued by your advert in the current edition of the Friend..."

Ah! Ha! Yes! Of course! I had placed the following ad in The Friend, a pacifist Quaker publication:

CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR IN WW2?
Writer working on novel about conscientious
objectors would love to hear your story


At the time, I didn't really expect anyone to respond, but I thought there was no harm in giving it a try and supporting The Friend in a small way.
And now there were these two letters.
On the metro, I started reading the first: a deeply moving and personal account of a man's decision to renounce war. Before I knew it, I was sitting there, tears in my eyes, unable to stop reading even though people in the carriage - in a rather un-Parisian way - were staring at me with collective pity. And craning their necks to see what on earth was in that mysterious letter.

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