I always loved writing letters, and receiving them too. There's something about opening a letter for the first time and experiencing the anticipation as you slide your finger under the envelope flap to tear it open and pull out the folded communication, wondering what news you're about to receive. Then there's the joy of reading your correspondent's words for the first time and then, afterwards, being able to carry that letter with you and read it at any time, pouring over the words whenever it suited.
Of course, these days, letters have been firmly replaced mostly by email. But it's not quite the same, is it? For example, email is so instant and fast, I find that communication with my friends via email is often short and sometimes unsatisfying, if I'm honest. I think, because it's easy to assume you can 'drop a quick email' anytime, the tendency is to not write a lot in one sitting, but rather a bit here and there that doesn't add up to much in the end because most times an email is sent, it's short. I know I'm guilty of doing just that, and yet I'm a born communicator! I pretty much always write more and beyond what most of my friends and family do! With a letter though, commitment is required. You're not going to get out some pretty paper, a pen, find yourself a comfy position and sit down to write just three lines, now are you?
I wish I'd kept every letter I had ever received. What a great form of entertainment that would provide on a cold, wintry night in front of the open fire! (Oh alright, the faux fire gas heater. It's just that 'open fire' sounds so much more romantic for such a pastime, don't you think? I'm sure Jane Austen would agree.)
I've kept very few letters sent to me in the past: a number of them from my mother, a few from my niece and a couple my husband wrote to me in the early days of our relationship. I also have two from another friend I met on a European Contiki Tour back in 1991: a Canadian girl I eventually found on Facebook a few years ago after losing touch many years before that. I read her letters for the first time in years just a few months ago, and it was like walking back through time, recalling her news - and mine (through her response) - from all those years ago and our musings over what had happened on our holiday, and afterwards.
Late last year, while going through some of my dear mum's documents after she moved to a nursing home, I found a few letters I had written to her from the same holiday. It's so interesting, and yet also a little cringe worthy, reading the words your twenty-year-old self wrote. All of life's little problems back then seemed huge at the time, when in reality, they would be nothing compared to some of the things I've had to deal with since. I took the letters to my Mum and read them aloud to her. She loved hearing my news again.
And you know what I love the most about her letters to me? Looking at her handwriting. Holding the paper I know she held in her own hands all those years ago, before carefully folding it, placing it in an envelope, putting a stamp on said envelope, then walking to the local post box to send it. Such time and effort, and all for me...
Many letters I exchanged with friends over the years are long gone. I never say, 'I don't regret anything,' because I believe regret is important: regret is what makes us question our choices and learn from the mistakes we're all bound to make at some stage. So I do regret throwing away a lot of those old letters. What an insight in to my past they would be now, as would the diaries I kept over the years that I also threw away, at the time believing that by letting go of the past, I could only then make way for my future. Silly girl. Looking in to your past is sometimes what makes you appreciate your present and allows you to move forward.
I feel sad that my boys are growing up without letter-writing. I'm so thankful that the few letters I have I can cherish, and living with the regret of throwing out so many letters is what makes me put away the few notes here and there my boys write for me. Along with my mum's letters, and the few other letters I have, they'll be cherished. Always.