Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Letters

By Belinda

I meant to go upstairs and continue tidying for an hour this evening after supper, but I picked up the two binders of letters that I so carefully sorted last winter--and I opened them. Immediately I was lost, in page after page of letters written at different times in our lives; some by people long gone. On the page their voices came alive.

There were letters from my dad; articulate and funny, and sometimes, if he wrote them after a trip to the pub, pouring out inner pain, but telling me not to quote scripture when I wrote back.

In front of one binder I have typed out a quote, which I unfortunately cannot find the author of:
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 to the end with pen and paper!
As if to prove that very point, in a letter from Dad, written some time in 1980, he writes:

Dearest Belinda,
Many thanks for your most welcome and oh, so well intentioned letter. AHEM! I kept it by me for a couple of days without opening it as I did your previous letter. I know the rest of the family find my behaviour odd in this respect but then maybe I am. But the way I see it is, a letter is a conversation in written form, and since spontaneity is surely the very essence of good conversation, how can you listen to, or read, what someone is taking the trouble to say to you unless you reply at the time you hear, or read. I always find, that if I read a letter, then put it by for a few days intending to write later, then by the time I have got round to it, my initial reactions to the letter have somehow become dulled, and/or changed. The latter of course "may" not be a bad thing, but in my submission, conversation should be lively, and, as I said, spontaneous. Having got that weighty bit of nonsense off my chest, perhaps I can continue in, I hope, lighter vein...

One of my favourite artists is Johannes Vermeer, who has as letters as a theme in many of his paintings.

I think that blog posts are a form; a descendant perhaps, of letter writing, for they can be a way of exploring "the landscape of  your soul."

My binders and boxes of letters are among my greatest treasures but they should probably be labeled with a warning, "Warning; do not open unless you have several hours to spend in complete and happy oblivion."

7 comments:

Dave Hingsburger said...

When I read the quote, I thought, I recognize this writing. So I did a search. I believe I have found the writer of the quote - you. It's your tone and your style. That's my guess anyways.

I understand your Dad's not wanting 'scripture' quoted. I've often found that 'scripture' comforts the quoter more than it does a person in deep pain. When I'm in pain and have talked to a minister, I found that the quoting of scripture seemed to be their way of distancing themselves from my vulnerability. Like they could retreat into scripture rather than advance into empathy. Most of your readers will probably disagree with me, but in the rough times, I need your voice and actions to be informed by scripture not your mouth full of it.

That sounded wrong at the end, but anyways, that's how I've always felt.

Susan said...

"Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls. For thus, friends absent speak." John Donne

Marilyn Yocum said...

LOVE this post and the comments above!

Your father's feeling about response needing to be spontaneous in order to be most genuine is absolutely inspired! I'm not suggesting we put off reading letters until we know we can sit and respond, but his heart and love language show through here and make me think of my own pub-loving relative who craved relationship but there were just so many obstacles to it - some innate, some learned and some occasioned by life's trials (war, loss).

Belinda said...

Oh, Dave, I only wish I could claim that quote for my own, but, alas, I don't think I can! :)

"in the rough times, I need your voice and actions to be informed by scripture not your mouth full of it."

Now that is a quote to remember. Inspired by St. Francis I believe, who said, "Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words."

Belinda said...

Marilyn, how awesome it was to know that you "heard" my dad's voice and were touched by it. How powerful the words upon a page to speak, even beyond the grave. Poignant, because I cannot answer, and I wish so often that I could.

Belinda said...

Susan,
I love that John Donne quote! Thank you. We of all people know the truth of it, such prolific letter writers we have been. :)

Susan said...

I kind of miss those days of pouring it all out on a page... On the other hand, I'm glad your writing blesses so many people now and isn't reserved just for your journal and a relatively few letters. I'm glad God sprang you free! (Is sprang a word?)