23 September 2010

Letters: Pieces of Ourselves Sent to Another.

I have beautiful volumes of letters, collected exchanges of written conversations between people. Some of them are famous. Some of them were in love. Others were exploring matters of faith, science or were just pen pals.


My Book Club recently read Galileo's Daughter, a book based on the letters of Galileo's daughter to her father. His letters were possibly burnt upon her death for fear of contamination or due to simplicity of life in convents in Italy at the time. The letters tell us much more about Galileo than the average history book or biography would. It was a personal and loving relationship described for us by only one side. The fact that Galileo kept the letters tells us that it was probably a reciprocal affection.

I've read collections of letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, C.S. Lewis,
Thomas Merton and man others. Much of our history has been written and confirmed because of letters.

The internet serves us, but it will not serve us in the same way handwritten letters has. Few will print out texts, emails sent or received, or even many of the photos now exchanged
online. What of those shoe boxes of photos discovered in the attic after aunty died? How will genealogists track back?

I have letters I wrote from Africa in my younger years. They describe events and people and places I had long since forgotten. I read about a young woman embracing another culture and I wonder at who she was. My letters are now mostly vie email, therefore lost in the maze of servers, software and hard drives that will never again spin.

The danger is that we will become the first generation in history to leave no written record of ourselves. If George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Captain Cook, Governor Grey or Ernest Hemingway had only used e-mail, would we have the same record of them that we possess through their letters and journals today?
Write letters. Even if your hand writing is not elegant and your grammar dodgy, write letters to those you love and give hints as to the nature of the relationship, the character of the people in your life and the stories you are living. Write letters as evidence that you were here and that you were connected to others. Your handwriting is unique to you. Leave some of it behind for those who follow.

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