Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Letters

Inspired by my daughter-in-law Sue, who was here painting for us on the weekend, I spent time up in our loft room this evening, sorting through the mass of boxes, cards, letters and general mayhem that lurks up there in the dark.

Sue is so focused. She works hard and gets a job finished. Oh, how I admire people like that. I dilly and dally, and stop along the way to read things.

I have been sorting up there for several months now. I wouldn't want you to think I haven't, but really, I feel that I should have a lot more to show for the time I've spent up there.

Sue is coming back next weekend to paint another room, which means I need to empty it of a lot of stuff. There is no putting it off. And some of it will be going upstairs, which means there has to be room up there. So, buoyed by Sue's example, I took myself off to the loft this evening.

A leopard doesn't change its spots, so I think I read every piece of paper that passed through my hands, but I finished carefully archiving decades of letters. What memories they brought back, and what windows they were into a moment in time. I noticed that around the year 2000, the stream of letters began to diminish. Email had become the preferred means of communication. But as I read the letters, I realized that something precious was lost in the transition.

In the front of one of the binders in which I have stored my letters, I typed out a quote but unfortunately omitted the author's name. It so beautifully describes the lost art of letter writing that I saved it and will share it here:

There are many kinds of letters, including the obligatory and those you can't wait to sit down and write. In letters you explore the landscape of your soul and reveal it to a friend. Relating external events is fine and dandy, but is merely the ever-changing framework for another work of art being patiently completed within you. It takes courage and a quiet hour to find accurate words to describe your inner picture.

Allow the outer events of your life to lead you inward. What has caused you joy, pain, or anger? A strong emotion you are willing to explore and articulate will lead you to an inner landscape. Emotions are good signposts along the journey.

Sometimes the letter received from a friend wraps the soul in a warm blanket. Even the envelope is lovingly addressed by hand, the stamp carefully chosen and placed.

It's easy to sift such letters from the daily avalanche of mail and patiently wait for the first uninterrupted moment to open such a treasure. Reading it is like opening a window with a striking view. What a luxury to think a thought and to end with pen and paper!

I will close this post with a poem I found in the loft, written by my dad. I found many poems in up there written by Paul's dad, too. His were inspirational and spiritual. My dad's tended to be whimsical and quirky and often with a bit of Black Country dialect thrown in. Here is one of them:

Now stir yourself, for write you must
Ya brains do now't but gather dust
Your daughter said, "Now Dad just think
Take up your pen and use some ink.

Excuses none, now you've retired
Nothing to do to get you tired
So grab your pen and to me just write
Perhaps, perchance, you'll shed some light."

Christopher L. Cater


I think that blogs have become the modern letter. They lack only the handwritten envelope and carefully chosen stamp but they can be a way of exploring "the landscape of your soul " and revealing it to friends.
Perhaps the art of the letter is not completely lost.

7 comments:

Susan said...

I wonder what would happen if we all went on an email fast for two weeks. I'll bet some letters would come out of it!

I miss those days...

Marian said...

We were created with the desire and ability to express ourselves creatively. It's only the instruments of expression that change. We know a new way is good if we can use it to successfully portray our sentiments about the old. You have succeeded. Welcome to the new.

Marilyn said...

A college-age acquaintance of mine "fasted" from emailing for Lent a few years ago. I liked that! (Of course, I'm hoping God doesn't lay that on my heart to do.) She sent me a cool and memorable card that was such a treat to receive.

Nice homage to letters, Belinda! My stash begins to dwindle around the same time as yours. I was surprised a few years back to discover my mother had saved some pen-and-paper correspondence from me in recent years. We mainly email these days.

Dawn said...

When I was at my Mom's this summer, I found some old letters that her father had written to her mother in 1924 when he came to Canada to set up a new home as well as a few from my great-grandparents to my grandfather.

I have scanned them so I can provide copies to my children and to my cousins.

One of these days, I will get the photos done as well!

Belinda said...

Wow, Dawn, what a treasure trove. I have one letter written from Belfast, Ireland, during World War 2, to relatives in Canada (not our family), and the letter refers to the bombing going on at the time. It is gives me an incredible sense of connection to the writer who sat down 60 years ago, to pour out their heart on paper.

Dave Hingsburger said...

I just loved your dad's poem, I love that kind of wit and rhyme. He had a real gift, and too, I hope you realize, there's love behind those words.

Angcat said...

This was great Belinda. Words are delicious and words personally received or sent are even better.

I echo Dave about your Dad's poem. The lilt in his rhyme is lovely and you can hear his heart and smile in it. Written in the language of the vernacular it is even richer.

Thank you for sharing.