It began when one woman in America, who could not sleep at night, wrote this letter to another woman on the other side of the world. ``My dear Russian sister [it said],
``You do not know me, yet perhaps you do. I hold in my heart the dream that you do know me, as I believe I know you. I am an American woman. When World War II was raging, I was five, six . . . and nine years old. Your people and mine were friends -- Allies -- then. I remember my parents weeping at the siege of Leningrad and at the news of millions of your people dying and dying. I merely had mightmares about the bombs coming. Your nightmares were real.
``The sons of my parents' friends hated what was happening in Europe and Asia and they left soft, comfortable homes to fight it. They did not wait to be drafted into the service. Many did not return. There were always red-eyed mothers in our neighborhood who had lost their sons, women who never again slept without crying first.
``We did not suffer the war as you and your people did, but our lives were not untouched.
``Those of us who remember that war believed that after it was over, there would be peace forever. The world could not be so stupid a third time. Did you, at the end of that war, doubt that there would be lasting peace?
``With that naive belief, as a young woman growing up I dared to dream dreams. Did you not dare to dream, too? Mine were that I would marry a good man whom I would love and that I would have healthy children. I also dreamed of being a writer.
``This is what I think you dreamed. That you would know a world without war, that you would marry a good man, and that your children would never experience the horrors you knew. Perhaps you dreamed of being a writer or an actress, a mathematician or a doctor. But I do not believe you dreamed of another war in your future.
``This is what happened to my dreams. I did marry a good man whom I love deeply. In my 30th year, our first child came, a son whom we named after an American-Russian writer who celebrated life and the truth. Four years later our daughter was born. . . . In their faces is the miracle of life: expressions and features of my family and my husband's that run generations deep. Have you not noticed that in your children's faces?
``The dream about peace in the world never happened. Wars and killing began almost immediately, for which our leaders -- yours and mine -- gave valid `reasons.' The Berlin Blockade, Korea, Hungary. With Vietnam, I knew that the people who remembered World War II were no longer in charge. Today, hundreds of fires smolder everywhere in the world, ready to erupt at a misunderstood word, a misplaced sentence, a breach of thought.
``I look at this tall son of mine who has jokes in his eyes and fierce loyalties to his friends. I see this slim daughter who makes music at the piano and who tends wounded birds. I wonder if they will live to know the joy of their own children. I don't sleep much at night.
``Russian sister, did you not celebrate your child's first step, first word? . . . Did you not marvel when your children began to read, to think, to learn?
``I cannot believe as you walk in the world, as you shop for your dinner, that you do not notice spring come or the sweet smell of summer, leaves falling, or the new gray hairs in your head. Don't you enjoy a soft bed, and a hot [drink] when it's cold, and jokes, and someone you love rubbing your back after work? I cannot believe that we two do not love the same exquisite blue planet the cosmonauts and astronauts see from outer space. I believe you are as frightened as I am that all we know will be extinguished by our leaders who refuse to dismantle the machines of war.
``Please read this and know that, on the other side of the world, I am your friend and that I love you. I wish you well and a long and happy life doing whatever it is that brings you joy.
``One thing I ask. Please copy this letter and give it to your friends. And please write me back to tell me if I am wrong about you or not.''
The woman signed her name and address. Then she went to a Russian man she knew and asked him to translate her letter into Russian. Afterward, she took the translation home and made copies of it, in her American-learned script. Night after night, she painstakingly copied the originals.
When she had 50 copies, she went to a Russian Orthodox church near her neighborhood where the old, wrinkled women spoke little English.
She gave a copy of her letter (in Russian) to one of the women and watched while she read it. When the old woman had finished (it took her quite a time), she stood up and embraced the American woman. Tears streamed down both their faces. Until that moment, the two had been strangers.
The Russian woman asked for copies of the letter to send to friends in Russia. Other women in the congregation asked for copies, too, to send to their friends.
In about a month, the American woman began receiving replies to her letter. A trickle of them came in at first. Most of them were in Russian. The woman took them to her friend, the Russian man, for translation. Slowly, he did this for her. She gave these translations to her friends.
The letters made the American woman sing. Russian women wrote and told her of their lives in the war, and of hopes and dreams they had had for the future. They told how their lives had turned out, too, with sadness, and humor, and finality. Above all, the letters said one thing clearly. The writers of them, mothers all, hated war and wanted peace in the world.
A newspaper in America wrote a story about what the woman was doing and printed some of the Russian letters. Suddenly, hundreds of letters from Americans came to the woman to be sent to Russia. All of them spoke of a fervent desire for peace and of love for the Russian people. Soon, there were too many letters to translate into Russian. Then the American woman began to forward them to the postmasters and postmistresses of Russia. . . .