It’s an art, isn’t it?
Certainly, it’s been depicted so many countless time in art. Letter writing. Letter reading.
This year, we have gotten to enjoy learning, all over again, this art. This year, our main communication between my eldest, Brother Peter Joseph, and home has been the letter. This felt like a forced discipline in some ways, at the beginning. Maybe discipline is too harsh a word, though I think it’s actually most precise. However, certainly at the beginning, it felt like a forced…separation. And that, it was. It is. And now, after much of this year has passed, I can say that “I get it.” I do.
We live in a world of utter immediacy, but to a fault. To my fault, really. Because I, personally, LOVE LOVE LOVE the immediacy of our modern communications era. I love being able to get hold of the person I want or need right away; by texting, emailing, calling. It’s immediate gratification. The blessing and/or curse of the impatient person. Me. My father used to tease me that I wanted immediate gratification on…everything. And so I did. And still, really, do. So, for me, one of the very most difficult things of Chris entering the Novitiate was his distance. Not his distance in miles but his distance, enforced, in simple communication. No longer could we call or email or text him. No tweeting (not that we did, but still, the possibity….). No facebook, no skype. It felt like we were “going dark.” That was a daunting prospect.
That very prospect, that ‘going dark;’ by which I mean no longer communicating by the glowing light of the electronic hubub net…is precisely what the novice needs. In order to hear God’s voice well, there must be more silence. The beeps and tweets and blips of our post modern clang has to be muted. I think it must be kind of like going out into the desert to escape the glare of the city lights, so you can really, finally, see the stars.
Now that is all quite apt for him. But, of course, on my end, that change in mode led to a possible void…of connection. A fear of a loss of connection. Perhaps a minor panic attack even, but I’m not saying…. We were expected and agreed to wait for his calls to us (unless there was an emergency) and we were encouraged to write.
To write! To actually, really, write….using real pens and pencils and paper. How quaint, no? Old fashioned! Daunting even….as my hands are older and cramp, literally, with the gripping of the pens. My scrawl is…well, a scrawl: practically unreadable. But I knew, it was the way to stay connected to my son. And so, I did.
In picking up the pen for the first time I discovered a few things:
First, my hands did ache and so I quickly switched to modern techno after all, but chose a lovely script font. Call me a slacker, I don’t care. I did write a few letters in my own hand, but I wrote more and easier by typing it out and printing, with goofy notes handwritten in the margins. Second, there IS an art to the letter. Sure, there is the format taught in grade school of how to structure a ‘proper letter.” But, as you write many letters, over time, to the same person that structure lifts and disappears and an art to it does take place. It is dependent upon the mood and the day, of course, but there is a space and place for, somehow….MORE. There is more “there” there.
I don’t mean to get too esoteric in writing about this, but I must say that there is such a gift to the continued correspondence of letters. There is an intimacy and a space for jokes and references that can be savored. To send a letter to my son is to send a piece of myself, complete with my own scrawled notes and signature, by doodles in the margines, and sometime the cookie crumbs from the accompanying goodies. It is a gift of self. The art of the letter I believe is in the gift of self that is folded into that envelope. It is the gift, ever, of connection and the time and care put into it. The intimacy that chosen words and stories are read in due time by far away eyes and tucked between those mom and kid hearts..or read aloud to other loved ones as well. When we receive a letter from Peter Joseph, we all read it to each other, with a smile and a hug of happiness.
That experience, that tangible joy and that pause of expectation when the letter is found in the mailbox is something that cannot be replicated in the warp speed bling of net communication. The instantaneous satisfaction is gone. But what is left is the anticipation and the lingering smile of a letter received, as well as one sent.
Now I know why so many artists have painted about letters. It is an art unto itself, truly. We have all grown up with that old adage in our heads, on every Hallmark sign. But, I have learned over this year that it is true. And so…. will I email Peter Joseph once his email is restored, perhaps in late August? Of course. My true impatient nature will out, always. But, I hope, I continue to write my son letters. I save all of his. This discipline of the novitiate was to allow the novices to step away from the hubub, to hear and think more clearly. In so doing, it has allowed me to embrace a new mode as well. The act of writing, sending and reading letters has become a new craft. I can see a few more stars, myself.