I got a letter from a friend of mine yesterday. We met in college during a terrible time in my life, and he was generous with rides home and, most importantly, his ear. We took a fiction writing for journalism majors that was even worse than that sounds. Each class was an exercise in restraint for us, and we often did our critiques together in a Polish restaurant far from campus (and really, far from anywhere). We continued our friendship through letters, mostly some shit about our lives and then pages on the books we read. I found out from his most recent letter that he reads this blog. Leave a comment, Matt!
I still write to him about books, and life, and my letters to him (and others) remain an important part of my writing life. I truly don't understand why more people don't write letters. Even with email and all that, there is nothing like getting some pages, written by a friend, that is in their unique hand and voice. You know that they spent time thinking only of you, thinking of how to shape the day or week's events for you. That kind of focus is amazing, and the transmission of it feels so good.
I am far from most of my friends. The letters thay send makes me feel a connection to them that doesn't replace seeing them, but it enhances our relationships nevertheless. I have letters going years back, some from people who I don't talk to anymore because our face-to-face relationship failed, or they died. When I see those letters, I know I was cared for deeply, even if that time is gone. It doesn't really feel like a loss. When I read old lettters (rarely), I get a pleasant whiff of my former self. I hope that when (if) they look back into their shoe boxes and dusty stacks of crap, they know that they were thought of carefully, deeply too.
When I am dead, the letters will remain. I want my grandchildren to know me. I want my friend's kids to know me. When the people I know (grandparents, parents, aunts) die, I hope that my letters to them, the letters in which I try to transmit my care of them when talking is too difficult, are seen. My father has requested that I read his letters (keot in a safety deposit box) when he dies. He wants me to burn them after, but I doubt I'll do that. Sorry Dad! Seeing my own letters to my brother, which he kept and I hope looked at often, while going through his stuff after he died, made me feel a tiny slice of peace. he knew i loved him and thought of him often. He died feeling loved. That is all I can hold on to, and my letters to him, my version of events crafted for him tell me that now that he can't.
So, write letters, because there will always be a past. Give yourself and the people you care about something to hold onto.