Today while rifling through my desk drawer I found in my desk a letter from my uncle dated 1963. More than a half century ago—but when I smoothed it out, Harry’s bold script danced out of the page as if it had been written yesterday. It spoke of everyday things and then—being Harry—he included a favorite quote and the news that he had begun to study astronomy. “As I become older,” my uncle wrote, “I feel the need to journey among about the stars.”
We are voyagers
Between distances or years…
Does it matter which?
When, I asked myself, did I stop writing letters? I used to love the process—finding a beautiful sheet of paper, a smooth-flowing pen, and a few moments to think and dream. Moments in which the recipient of the letter stood at my elbow, a space in time when we could talk and laugh about things inconsequential and matters of grave importance. All this—and when I folded the paper and sealed the envelope, I always felt a sense of happy anticipation.
Now, of course, there is the internet. So much more convenient… and so easy to use. A few lines jotted down, bits of information, a joke or two, and off my message would go arriving (at least so I hoped) through the technological magic I could never understand, in someone’s e-mailbox. Task completed. Problem solved.
But looking at Harry’s letter touched chords that an e-mail message never could, and I wanted more. I searched again and here was another letter—this time from my other uncle, Joe. This was the uncle with whom I had bicycled around Mt. Fuji’s largest lake. He had been a keen sportsman who had played rugby, tennis and soccer in his time and was always a passionate golfer. He had even tried to teach me the game, but hadn’t succeeded very well as I always lost balls, ended up in sand traps, or lost my temper. “Dear Hopeless,” his letter began—his pet name for me after the golfing fiascos– and I laughed and felt young again as I read the cheerful words he had dashed off.
Every letter that I had kept sang with the personality of the writer. My Dad’s letters were always to the point. Did I need money? Were things going well? And—“Study, but not too hard. Have fun, too.” My mother wrote of daily happenings, and her letters were mines of practical information dosed with humor. “Scandalized my very proper lady students today,” she once wrote. “The old rag-picker lady sauntered by as the ladies were leaving, and she hailed me… and of course I went over and shook hands and made sure she and her dog were doing well. One of my students gave me a funny look and said, ‘You have some odd friends, Mrs. Crane.’ And I said, ‘I choose my friends for who they are, not what they do.’”
Then, there were letters from friends. Some lost to death, some very much alive, they seemed to cluster around me as I opened the envelopes I’d tucked away. Some letters were funny and made me laugh anew; a few were poignant and took me to that place of sharing where only good friends can visit. I re-read letters recoding births and marriages and the ones that spoke somberly of disease and trouble. Dark days, bright days… all were crystallized in words that cut across time. Then I came to the note that a friend had sent before her operation. “ I loved your last letter,” she began. “It gave me energy, so write again soon!”
I re-read all the old letters and then put the envelopes away, determined. It was time that I looked for my favorite box of stationary again.
Plain sheet of paper
Filled with talk, tears, laughter…
A bit of myself.