Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Communication has changed so much over my lifetime.  When I was young, a long distance phone call was something reserved for special occasions or emergencies.  There was no email, no instant messaging, no cell phone texting.  When family members were apart we wrote to keep in touch.  And we ALL wrote in my family.  I have a cherished collection of letters from my father from my one summer at camp and from my first year in college.  They are so precious to me that I bought a fireproof box to store them in.  When I took mental inventory of what I would miss if all my belongings were lost in a fire, those letters were at the top of the list - hence the box. We don't write letters anymore.  Emails are written with less thought and then get deleted.  We often have no written record of our relationships to return to.  We are missing so much.

This week I very unexpectedly had another box of letters returned to me.  Most of these were written by my mother during my late college and early (first) married years.  Reading them again after so long is somewhat bittersweet.  Being older now allows me to see her through different, more adult, more compassionate eyes.  During this period she was a recent widow.  Until my father died she had never lived alone.  She grew up as the oldest in a large family and lived with her birth family until marrying my father.  They then lived just a few blocks from her family for about ten years before moving away.  As I read through the letters I could see that my mother secretly hoped that I would return to her home after I graduated and again provide some company for her.  Once I married and it became clear that my own plans did not include such a move, that hope died for her and she was faced with yet another change to adapt to.

My own path never took me back to the area where I grew up and never allowed me to have a relationship with my mother that was not complicated by the many miles between us.  When I was younger I didn't appreciate my family relationships enough.  Now I am close to my mother's age at the time of these letters and I see history repeating itself in my relationship with my children.  We are not separated by miles as my mother and I were, but neither are we close.  My son who recently married lives not five miles from me and yet I have not heard (even a phone call) from him since his wedding a month ago. I see a connection here.  My mother and I both emphasised independence, educational success, adventure, and maturing even in the face of personal challenges. (In one letter she commented that certain situations that required independence were difficult for "insecure people like us".  Interesting. I never considered her insecure.)  But when you push them out of the nest, you can't make them come back.  You just have to wish that they want to.  And I think that happens.  It just takes a long time to cycle around again to an appreciation of your childhood and a desire to return again to that place.

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