Thursday, July 8, 2010

Love Letters and Moral Dilemmas

"More that kisses letters mingle souls." ~ John Donne.

Envelopes yellow with age, 1943 postmarks, a lipstick print next to a wispy return address. A bundle of letters fell into my care recently with a note attached requesting that they be destroyed upon the owner's death. Had they been wrapped in something I hadn't been able to see through, I might have been able to do it. But they were visible.
The love letters that had me in a quandary.

Well, what's a girl to do? I was very busy dealing with lots of other business so I put them away thinking eventually I'll build a fire...won't I? The shredder seemed too heartless. It would have to be fire. Sort of a Viking funeral for lovers' promises. Some weeks passed. Finally on a rainy afternoon recently I took them from the drawer. I had already asked several friends what they thought I should do. No one seemed to think that destruction was appropriate. I wanted to carry out the wishes of the note writer...I did, but... love AND history? As I have a weakness for both it was too much for me and I couldn't destroy them unread. Reverence is the only word I can use to describe the care with which I opened the first brittle envelope...unfolded the letter...sweetness.  Charming and innocent. Lovers separated by war, a longing for kisses, to hold one another, to be married. And married they were, and from all accounts it was both long and happy.

What is it about 
letters? What could be more romantic
 than looking for a note from your sweetheart? I think it's the anticipation, the waiting. No one is waiting for anything anymore. Now it's just all so...instant and let's be honest, without much thought. Who has time to ponder words or carefully choose phrases? I not only adore letters, ( Jefferson's Head/Heart letter to Maria Cosway has to be one of the best love letters ever penned.) books of letters (Winston and Clementine, George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Cambell, The Intimate Correspondence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor) but am often smitten by letter boxes. I frequently take pictures of interesting ones I come across.

Of course not all great letters are love letters and many of my favorites are between friends, political rivals or allies, letters to children. C.S. Lewis and Beatrix Potter were masters of those. Lewis also kept up a 13 year correspondence with a woman whom he never met. His letters to her are published in Letters to an American Lady. Sadly, we don't have hers as she wished to remain anonymous. A few years ago when a dear friend moved away we made a pact to write...real letters. Oh, and we did...for a while. It is time consuming and by the time your letter arrives the information is outdated or has already been shared by some faster method. Still we kept it up for a while and I have hers tied up with a ribbon, for they are precious. I'm sure she has mine complete with the sketch of the baby squirrel I was raising at the time, I have her next one addressed to: Mama Michelle's Home For Wayward Rodents.

However like everyone else we are now facebook friends and share the most minute details of our lives: what we made for dinner, what movie we are watching, a great deal we got while shopping. If I have anything so interesting as a new furniture arrangement I can post a picture that she can see immediately. So as with lots of things in life, it's a trade off. We communicate more now and have great fun staying in such close touch, but we don't print them out and save them. Honestly who else would care to read most of it?

Love letters will be a lost art form though, will they not? What's to save? A text? A Facebook status or worst of all, a tweet. So as usual I'm musing over something that there isn't an answer to or solution for. Just noticing that something precious has been lost and replaced with something else...for better or worse.
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1 comment:

  1. This post reminded me of my grandmother. After grandad died in the summer of 1976, we were packing up her things to move her to live with Mom and myself. Among the boxes were a similar stack of old letters - I don't remember who they were to or from. At the time, I wanted the stamps, as it was a budding, and still unrealized hobby of mine.. and I remember my aunt saying clearly, that I could have the envelopes with the stamps, but she took the contents away saying they were "personal". Now, grandad was never overseas during the war... he was an electrician somewhere stationed in GA. But I guess he was still "away" as far as she was concerned. I wonder if my aunt still has those letters? I, like you, am in love with the sense of history that may be in these letters...and the sense of of great love that would have lasted 50 or 60 years, had both of them lived the same length of time.