14 July 2008

Love, Your Belle

I write to understand as much as to be understood.
~ Elie Wiesel

In a recent reorganization of my boudoir/library, I came across Alexandra Stoddard’s classic book on missives: The Gift of a Letter. It was like finding a letter from an old friend and I eagerly picked it up for a re-read. One of the first points she makes is that in today’s fast paced, technologically overwhelmed society, a real, honest to goodness, handwritten letter still opens doors that emails and text messages simply cannot.

There are so few letters written today, in spite of the fact that almost everyone enjoys receiving a handwritten note in the mail. I have posted here before about letter-writing in general. This time, I am not talking about letter-writing per se, but one of the key virtues that is needed in order to be an excellent letter-writer: vulnerability.

Vulnerability is a much overlooked virtue, especially in 21st century, make-it-alone-or-die America. To write down one's thoughts in black and white is to expose one's soul. My scribblings here on this page are vulnerable to some extent ~ but there is still a layer of anonymity, especially for my readers who have never met me.

But a letter. A well-written, honest, completely open letter, between friends, between lovers. That is a window to the depths that lie behind walls that time and past hurts have erected in so many of us. And those walls were built very carefully. Put a window in!? Are you crazy!? Someone might see in! Or worse. They might not answer my letter.

I once read a quote from C.S. Lewis: "I do not pray because it changes God. I pray because it changes me." Letters have an analogous effect. Since I think in terms of words and outlines, notes and lyrics, putting pen to paper is a more effective way for me to communicate well. I do not write letters in order to receive a response. I write to express what is in my heart and to gather my too often scattered thoughts. Writing changes me. And if it changes or affects the recipient, so much the better. But I cannot control that end of the process.

Now, I admit that when I do receive a hand written note in reply, I am overjoyed and such an event is treated with fanfare and special attention. You may be sure that if you take the time to write to me, I will take the time to savor each word, each sentence ~ candles lit, music playing and no interruptions allowed.
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Sometimes, when in the midst of composing a letter, I have no idea where it will end up. I may be regaling my reader with a dramatic retelling of an embarrassing event that happened that day or that week and by the end of the letter, I am musing on how that brought up old memories, or made me think of a loved one. There are times I think that I know where I stand on an issue, only to realize in writing my thoughts down, that my position is unreasonable or unsupportable or overly emotional.

But what about my readers who do not fancy themselves letter-writers? Never fear! One need not be Cyrano de Bergerac to write heart stopping prose. It does not even have to sound heart-stopping to you, the author. I assure you, even if you are the worst writer in the history of personal correspondence, the person who receives a hand written note from you will treasure it for years to come. Why? Because you took the time and the courage to open your heart and your soul and let them in. Does conversation do this? Of course. But not in the same way that a letter does.

If a friend and I run into rough spots in our friendship, as even the closest of relationships are wont to hit now and then, it helps smooth the way for reconciliation if there are letters in the possession of both that serve as a tangible reminder of shared joys and even shared tears. This happened to me recently and because I had no intimate shared correspondence with this friend, I found myself questioning whether there was even a friendship there worth fighting for. The end result is that the friendship has to be rebuilt out of ashes. In essence, it will be a new relationship.

So even if you are better at communicating in person, practice putting your thoughts and feelings down on paper. It will be appreciated by the recipient. The beauty of a letter is not in the style or even the script, but in the openness of the heart on the other end of the pen.
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Vulnerability is indeed difficult and frightening. But it is not only worth practicing, I think that in some measure, we need to be vulnerable. Our heart cries out for it. To write a letter is an act of love in and of itself. And love entails risk. But anyone who has ever loved would admit that But despite the risk, despite the potential pain, it is worth every tear. As soon as the heart heals, it aches to get back out there. Because let's face it: we are built for self-gift and we will never be fulfilled or realize our full potential until we give ourselves completely and unreservedly to another.
Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
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