A Love Letter

By Don Jackson, April 2012
Former host of one of Canada's most popular radio shows spanning three decades.
Author, broadcaster, storyteller.

Found while spring-cleaning
But too precious to throw out,
The first love's letters.

In a past issue of 'Glamour' magazine, Pamela Redmond Satran wrote a list of things to be immediately thrown out and another one with items that should be kept forever. On her list of things to be made to disappear included all the letters from the person who broke your heart. On the other list, she recommended that your parents save all their love letters.

Stumbling across these letters years later can be a powerful discovery.

Two grown children go through a mother's things after her death. A secret life finally sees the light of day in 'The Bridges of Madison County' by Robert James Waller, published by Warner Books in April 1992. There were a lot ghosts in that old farmhouse, but somehow I think that they mostly lingered around an old covered bridge. Every time I think of Robert Kincaid I can't help but think of Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep.

In the time before instant communications, when many a man went away to fight for home and country or to provide a living for his family, very little thought was given to the people he left behind, especially his wife.  It was expected that she would care for the family in his absence and ... wait. What must have helped her through her waiting and wondering would be the few letters that might arrive, or ones that he had penned in the past. These simple pages would be the anchor that would keep her feet firmly planted until his safe return, or news of his fate arrived.

My mother was a prolific letter writer. She had pen pals all over the world. This was a time long before e-mail and personal computers. She would sit down with one of those blue airmail forms and write long letters to her friends in New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii. It would take almost a week for the letter to arrive and another week or so before a reply came back to her in a similar airmail envelope. In today's age of instant messaging, I wonder how many would have her patience to wait weeks for a response. In those small letters she spoke of her daily life, her hopes, dreams and fears. There were no short forms like 'BTW' or 'LOL', and no 'smiley-face' emoticons. I would like to think that my mother would have embraced the technology of today and enjoyed instant communication with her friends either by e-mail or text message, but she was content in her anticipation of a future reply.

Somewhere in the world, the children of those women she sent letters to, might one day find some of my mother's letters. It would be a blessing to me to hear from one of those people today.

Creative people find ways to share their feelings with a much larger audience than one.

My very best friend in the entire world is a musician in Montreal who has played in nightclubs and restaurants for years. He is one of the most talented musicians I've ever met. He never got a record deal, probably wouldn't win 'American Idol' or 'The Voice', but I'm sure that if you heard him play in a dimly lit club and listened to his interpretation of a most poignant love song you'd likely stay until his final set. You might even want to ask him to drop by your table for a few minutes.

Whenever I see him play, I always ask that he sing some of the songs he recorded on an album of his own making a very long time ago. Out of all the music he makes, these are the songs that affect me deeply.

He sold a few copies privately at some of his gigs. It was never a best seller–wouldn't have even made it onto the charts. He probably made up the costs of recording and packaging, but that wasn't the reason behind doing it in the first place. It was an outlet for what he was feeling inside.

He wrote these songs after a relationship breakup many years ago. In the midst of the pain, he found a creative outlet for his feelings through his music and that pain and understanding of love, can make a room go very still and quiet.

You may have found a way to voice your own feelings in the aftermath of love.

If you're a writer, maybe some of your most intense prose or poetry found its way onto the page born from heartbreak.

If you're an artist, maybe your most powerful images found their way onto a canvas, images filled with light and color and form you never explored before.

Maybe it's a work you've never shared with another soul. Like those love letters that are squirreled away in a shoebox, hidden in a place safe from prying eyes. The cause for this creative outpouring was from the deepest regions of your soul, a place you thought was safe from hurt, a place that was carved into your soul by pain. I never knew it actually had a name. It's called 'creative illness.'

That is the true season of love, when we believe that we alone can love, that no one could ever have loved so before us, and that no one will love in the same way after us.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

One of my favourite comic strips is 'B.C.' by Johnny Hart. His little caveman liked to set on the shore of an immense ocean and hammer out a letter into a slab of stone. He would then toss it into the water and watch it taken out on the tide. He would wait and wait. Eventually, he would see another stone slab wash up on his lonely shoreline. It was contained a humorous response to the profound questioned he asked.

The film, 'Message in a Bottle', was based on the 1998 Warner Books novel by Nicholas Sparks.

The letter-writer, Garrett Blake, is on this side of heaven trying so desperately to communicate with his dead wife by writing her messages and throwing them into the sea in bottles. He's trying to say all the words he didn't in life. He seems to be trying to hold her spirit here rather than doing what he knows he must do–letting her spirit go.

If hauntings are real, then this may be the reason for some of them. They could be nothing more than the fact that those left behind are fearful of letting go.

I just read a science-fiction novel by the late Philip Dick called 'Ubik' that features the premise that when our loved ones die they are quickly frozen before all brainwave activity is gone. At a holding facility dressed up like a mortuary, grieving relatives get a chance to communicate with their loved ones through electronic means. For those who can't bear the thought of letting their loved ones go, they at least can visit them and communicate with them but at a very dear price: the more they access the remaining thoughts of the deceased, the faster their ultimate end comes. There are only so many times you can speak with the dead in this story before the link is broken. I think the main character in the Nicholas Sparks novel would have appreciated this concept of our future. At least he would have been given one last chance to say goodbye.

The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.
W.M. Lewis

At one point in the film, Paul Newman's character at dinner, satiated by the clams he dug up and cooked, says: You know you oughta knock down some walls in there. It's getting too crowded. ... Of course, he was referring to the ghosts that haunt his son. Or one ghost in particular.

If we never met again in our lives I should feel that somehow the whole adventure of existence was justified by my having met you.
Lewis Mumford, in a letter to his wife.

Sometimes we remember the moment in a letter. For many, however, the sentiments are private and only for one special person. We take the time to pause to gather our thoughts so we can be sure of our words and that our memory hasn't failed us.

I felt like writing letters, but I didn't have anybody to write to.

'Write to me,' said Horace. 'I'll read them.'

'I wish I could,' breathed Marcia. 'If I knew words enough I could write you the longest love-letter in the world–and never get tired.' An excerpt from pg 20 of 'Head and Shoulders' by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and published in The Saturday Evening Post, February 21st, 1920, and included in the collection, 'The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection', edited and with a preface by Matthew J. Bruccoli, and published in 1989 by Charles Scribner's Sons. Its ISBN: 0-684-80445-X

In a darkened room, candlelight illuminates the words of a love letter written by the light of another candle, and as the reader goes over the lines again and again, a drop of melted wax, like a tear, falls to the tabletop.

There have been collections of love letters published by many different publishers. One can't help but feel a little uncomfortable reading letters that were really only ever intended for the eyes of those who received them.

Are you familiar with 'A Saucer of Loneliness' by Theodore Sturgeon? The teleplay was by David Gerrold and it was a featured episode in the TV series, 'The New Twilight Zone', on September 27th, 1986. The episode starred Shelley Duvall. The book it was featured in is called 'New Stories From The Twilight Zone', edited by Martin H. Greenberg and published in 1991 by Avon Books, a division of Hearst.

The character in this story has a close encounter with a UFO. It's not a large craft, but a very small disc that actually comes right up to her forehead. It imparts some information to her and before she knows what has happened to her simple life before the event, the authorities question her. They believe that what she heard could pose a threat to national security. Just before she's about to go on trial, her lawyer wants to know why she's keeping what the craft told her a secret. Because it was talking to me, and it's just nobody else's business, is her powerful response.

In the end, we find out that the UFO wasn't really a flying saucer but a bottle sent out across the vast ocean of space with a message inside. The sender had no idea that it would ever reach another living being. When we throw a message in a bottle into the sea, we hope that it will eventually be found and read by another soul.

There is a 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' episode that I remember. As the ship is passing near to a star system, the android 'Data' picks up a message from a little creature on a far away world. A little voice comes blazing across the interstellar distances: Is there anybody out there? 'Data' makes the mistake of replying and the rest of the episode deals with the crew trying to undo the damage he created by his simple response. Their mandate is to not interfere with civilizations that have yet to acquire the technology needed to travel between the stars. Their 'Prime Directive' is adamant about the possibility of contamination. So, they have to erase the memories of the little female creature so she forgets that someone responded to her plaintive call.

Consider the film, 'Contact', starring Jodie Foster that was based on the Carl Sagan novel. Her character, 'Eleanor Arroway', receives a message from space that gives precise details about the construction of a vehicle to take a representative from Earth on an interstellar journey. When she is chosen to make the voyage through 'Einsten-Rosen bridges' or wormholes in space, she ends up on a sandy beach beside a calm sea. The stars overhead are clustered in strange but spectacular constellations. She is on the shoreline of an alien world, but this is where she has been delivered to make first contact with another species of life. To make the meeting easy on her, the representative of the alien race appears in the guise of her dead father. After she returns to Earth, no one believes her incredible story. Her machine didn't seem to go anywhere at all to those who observed the event. The pod she was in dropped through the machine in a matter of seconds, but there were those in the government who know better.

Two fictional messages with similar results.

But we have sent two messengers out across the ocean of space, two spacecraft that carry a message about who we are. In a sense, we have already sent the message in a bottle Sturgeon wrote about. ... We are the letter writers hoping someone will pick up our bottle and realize that in this vast universe they're not alone.

Words are so weak
When love hath been so strong:
Let silence speak:...
Author Unknown

Earlier, I alluded to a letter found in the book 'The Bridges of Madison County' written by a mother and discovered by her children after her death. Some of our most powerful letters are the ones we write to our children or receive from them.

I have one last letter for you to open...

This excerpt was included in a letter from a child to its mother.

Dear Mother: I'm all right. Stop worrying about me...

Sounds like something you might read in an e-mail between mother and son, or text between mother and daughter in the 21st century.

It's actually from a piece of papyrus, an Egyptian letter, dated circa 2,000 B.C.!

In the distant future, an archaeologist might unearth a relic, a centuries-old lost cell phone. After struggling to figure out how to recharge the battery, he might discover a text message sent from a daughter to her mother with those sentiments exactly.

Don Jackson, April 2012

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