More than kisses, letters mingle souls; for thus friends absent speak. ~John Donne
Can you remember the first time you got a love letter in the mail?
I was 10, and it was Valentine’s Day. A boy in my class, on whom I’d had a very large crush for the entire year, mailed a handwritten letter to my house. It wasn’t anything fancy – in fact, it was just a sheet of notebook paper from his three ring binder, folded in half and then folded again so it would fit into a small envelope. But the letter, written in pencil and complete with smudges, contained the first profession of love I’d ever received.
Obviously, that letter made quite an impression on me, because I can still picture it in my mind’s eye, can still recall word for word the marriage proposal it contained, still feel the fluttering of butterflies in my stomach as I read it (and re-read it, and read it still again!) And I kept it, in its original envelope with the 6 cent stamp, until just a few years ago, when I came upon it while going through a keepsake box in my bottom dresser drawer.
A few years later, I would again be the recipient of love letters- dozens of them, much more well written, from the young man who would become my husband. We were separated for four months (an eternity!) while he was away at college in Ann Arbor (an interminable distance of 40 miles!) We wrote to each other every single day for that entire time period – pages and pages of letters, expanding on each minute detail of our days apart, declaring our undying love, outlining all our hopes and dreams for the future. Not surprisingly, I still have those letters too, in a box in a basement closet. I will never throw those away.
Letters seem to be a thing of the past, don’t they? The only letters I ever receive are the newsy holiday letters that friend tuck into their greeting cards. I love getting those – I know they’re corny, and some people complain about them, but I enjoy hearing what everyone has been up to all year, what’s gone on in their lives, and how they’ve fared. They really are “friends absent,” speaking, as the Donne poem says.
The young woman depicted in Edward Leighton Blair’s oil painting is obviously stopped dead in her tracks by whatever her letter contains. I hope it’s good news – the imminent return of a long lost love, perhaps. It’s difficult to see in this small photo, but the solitary tombstone by the side of the path adds a somber tone to the mood, making the viewer hope that it isn’t bad news she’s reading.
Our church has an Epiphany tradition we call Star Sunday. I’ve written about it in more detail on my other blog. Suffice to say that each year everyone in the congregation is given the gift of a word, written on the back of a star. We choose our stars blindly from the offering plate as it is passed through the pew. The word becomes “our word” for the year – an ambition, a quality of life, a hope -that will manifest itself in some way in our life.
This year my word was “letters.”
I rather doubt that I’ll be getting love letters in 2011, but one never knows. The power of the star is not taken lightly.
Nor is the power of the letter.