Letters and the Lost Art of Forgetting

When is the last time you wrote a letter? I mean really wrote a letter; got out the nice paper, put a ruled sheet behind it. Used a proper ink pen. I’ll let you off the paper, maybe a note card; filled, not just Happy Birthday or Wish You Were Here.

I miss it. I miss the ritual. I miss the slowing down. There’s a special type of concentration that comes when you don’t have the facility of ctrl-z. Structure matters, it can’t be imposed later. A train of thought, once started, has to be taken to its conclusion. There is no hiding behind a delete key.

Of course you can start again. As Nanci sang, that’s a bad hand at solitaire, you lie to yourself no one cares. Besides, thoughts once written are real, whether they are sent or simply balled up and sent for recycling.

I miss loving people enough to spend the time writing to them. The investment of me into them, the gift of a reply.

I’ll admit I don’t miss the waiting, much. But there is a pressure that comes with the urgency of emails, and Lord save us, instant messages and chats. Immediacy denies us pause and consideration. In a way it deprives us of our humanity. The amygdala reigns. Write, send, read, write, send in repetition laying bare a visceral self stripped of any higher brain functions.

A letter invites our better selves to step forward. Handwriting betrays hurry, lies, hesitation. Patience and honesty are rewarded on the page.

Most of all a letter allows us to forget, and grants us the privilege of being seen only through the eyes of others. Only politicians and narcissists keep copies of the letters they send. The rest of us entrust our words into the safekeeping of another. What we wrote is lost, there is no scrolling back. The correspondent is a mirror. Imperfect, trusted, external and close. Only in the reply, seen through their lens, filtered through their perception, reshaped by their priorities to do we receive any record of what we wrote.

This is what you said meant to me, is what they tell you. An elevation out of our self regard, feedback on how we made another feel. Not in a guttural, animalistic way, but with all the clarity of the civilised mind.

In our hurry, in our quest for connections, in our surrender to instinct we have lost something of ourselves.

Drop me a line, maybe together we can find it again.


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