I didn’t save every letter I received but I saved many. I come from generations of people who hoard and save, so it wasn’t a surprise to do this. A pattern of intense, deeply felt friendships was set early. Letters told me who these friends were, in written form, and they also told me who I was. Their comments on my letters and life allowed me to see myself from different perspectives. How passionate we were! Naive and honest, witty and bright, bold and confused. Occasionally, I would find a particularly kindred soul, a fellow communicator who loved to write and express him or herself in words.
I wonder how the world has changed now without these letters, replaced by e-mail and facebook and SMS. It was a different process and way of thinking. An opportunity for reflection: how do I compose myself, express myself? What do I want to share? And then: anticipation and patience. When will they respond, if at all? There was beauty in the thoughtful, slow exchange of lives and stories that are not up into short bits and bytes by modern technology.
I couldn’t completely escape my core instinct to save and record. I reviewed my envelopes and files of letters – and took notes, in an e-mail message to myself, of the people I was in touch with at different periods of my life, at times copying a phrase or paragraph. A few special letters I think I’ll eventually scan and archive.
It was good to revisit my younger self, kind and needy and romantic. I came across turning points in my life and in others. I was surprised at some of my regular correspondents – at times, friendships felt stronger than they were simply because we were good at writing to each other. Also, I was amused and bewildered both by how memory works, people and incidents that I can barely recall or not at all.
It felt good to realize how I’ve changed. That I no longer need letters to tell me who I am, that I accept how we’ve changed and that if friendships have lasted, it is not our past selves but our present ones that we engage with, though I marvel too, at how far we’ve come.