by Patrick Fuller ’21
“What is it that makes someone suffer to provide someone else with a better life?” This is the question Hannah Brencher posed to a group of Providence College students in ’64 Hall on Nov. 1 during Mental Health Week.
Brencher, a writer, TED speaker, and communications expert, came to PC to promote her organization “The World Needs More Love Letters,” founded in 2011.
Seeking to “make love famous” by providing strangers with messages of hope and encouragement, the organization includes a global community of 20,000 individuals across six continents, 53 countries, all 50 states, and 73 college campuses.
After graduating from Assumption College in 2010 with a double major in sociology and English, Brencher joined the United Natsions. During her time with the UN, Brencher worked on issues surrounding human trafficking and girls’ education.
Though this work was fulfilling, Brencher mentioned feeling sad and lonely, noting that, “The best parts of [her] life have not come from [her] five-year plan.” Then, she cited a pivotal movement in her life, one which created the theme of this talk. Joe, a 77-year-old math junkie, walked into a Starbucks where Brencher sat doing work and asked, “What do you love?”
Brencher replied, “I love words. If there were a way to bring a semi-colon to prom I would have.” Then, Joe slid her a math problem across the table. Brencher could not solve it, she said to Joe, “I don’t know.” He said that it was not that Brencher did not know, but that she did not know yet. From this event, Brencher reminded us to “Stay hungry. Take note of what wakes you up inside.”
Nevertheless, Brencher attributes the creation of her organization to the example and personality of her mother, a socialite who constantly reminds her to pay attention to the people around her. In a world bouncing between the temporary pleasures of social media and the “stories of people you want to be like,” Brencher’s mother taught her to make every person she encounters feel like the center of the universe.
For this reason, Brencher wrote a letter to a lonely woman on the New York subway. Although the woman got off the train before Bencher had the opportunity to give it to her, she still decided to leave love letters in coffee shops, stores, and delegate seats throughout New York City, all intended for strangers.
Afterwards, she posted on her blog offering anyone who needed hope and love an opportunity to receive a love letter. Expecting five or six requests at the most, Brencher was stunned when hundreds of requests poured in. Eventually, The Wall Street Journal contacted her, turning her humble quest to deliver love into a nationwide movement and a widespread reality.
Therefore, she had to cope with the drastic expansion of her letter writing. Reflecting, Brencher advised anyone seeking to start something new to “just start, figure out the rest later, ask for help, don’t look for perfectionism, and vow to do everything you can.” Through the assistance of a favorite author and interviews with several known reporters, Brencher created The World Needs More Love Letters, and wrote her first book, If You Find This Letter. Now, the organization has delivered over 125,000 letters to people around the world, comforting widows, giving appreciation to veterans, and sending hope to cancer patients.
From her experiences, Brencher reminded the audience to do “small things on repeat.” She remembered getting 300 girls to wish her friend a happy birthday after he suffered a terrible heartbreak. The reaction from her friend showed the effectiveness of a simple gesture. After all, according to Brencher, “It is easy to go through these four years and ask, ‘What can I get?’ It’s pretty cool to ask, ‘What can I give?’”
Finally, Brencher told the audience to “stay here.” Apparently, Brencher’s driver for her 2015 Barnes and Noble book launch was the driver in The Devil Wears Prada. However, without the inquiry of her outgoing mother, Brencher would never have discovered this fact, being a diehard fan of the film. As Brencher told her audience, “Investing in someone’s life is different than investigating someone’s life.”
Closing out her conversation, Brencher made sure to circle the lecture back to mental health. She reminded everyone that “it’s okay to not be okay,” and to “be those lighthouses for people.” Yet, most of all, Brencher wants us all to be buffalo. Like her old physical trainer once remarked, buffalo do not hide from a storm but run towards it.